Bruce Murphy

“I’m not Republican,” Arlo Guthrie Says

Contacts Urban Milwaukee to discuss -- and clarify -- his politics.

By - Jul 2nd, 2018 03:44 pm
Arlo Guthrie. Photo by John Kloeppe. (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Arlo Guthrie. Photo by John Kloeppe. (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Longtime folk musician Arlo Guthrie, long identified with the Hippie era, protest songs and liberal Democrats like George McGovern, wants you to know his politics have been grossly simplified by the media. He is no longer a Republican (though he was for a while) and is certainly not a supporter of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. 

Guthrie wrote to Urban Milwaukee in response to our column by John Sieger last week on the song “Deportee,” written by Arlo’s father Woody Guthrie and often performed by Arlo. Sieger called the song, written in 1948, a “deeply stirring” work about the plight of Mexican immigrants coming to America that “really resonates today.”  Sieger linked readers to a version of the song performed by Arlo Guthrie and Hoyt Axton but lamented that Arlo had become a Republican, and may no longer be in sync with the sympathies expressed in this song.

Sieger drew his information from media reports. In 2008, Guthrie endorsed Ron Paul for president, saying “Dr. Paul is the only candidate I know of who would have signed the Constitution of The United States had he been there.”

In 2009 Guthrie told the New York Times: “I became a registered Republican about five or six years ago because to have a successful democracy you have to have at least two parties, and one of them was failing miserably. We had enough good Democrats. We needed a few more good Republicans.”

But Guthrie, who turns 71 this year, emailed Urban Milwaukee to note he is no longer a Republican. “I left the party years ago and do not identify myself with either party these days. I strongly urge my fellow Americans to stop the current trend of guilt by association, and look beyond the party names and affiliations, and work for candidates whose policies are more closely aligned with their own, whatever they may be.”

In a follow-up email to our questions he added this: “What irked me was someone saying that I was a Republican, as if that alone meant that someone like me was supportive of the current administrations policies on immigration… That is absurd. There are many individuals in both parties (and neither party) who strongly oppose this administration’s policies, not just on immigration but a host of other issues.”

As for the idea that Guthrie’s views today are in any way at odds with the song “Deportee,” he notes that he still performs the song at his concerts and wrote a blurb for the cover of a book by Tim Hernandez, All They Will Call You, which details the lives of those immigrants who perished in the plane wreck in 1948 which inspired Woody Guthrie’s song. 

“I remain deeply rooted and connected to my father’s work and have been throughout my life. I remain distrustful of authority as I have been for over 60 years. And I get ticked off when someone insinuates that belonging to either political party makes them complicit when loud mouth buffoons of either side of the aisle pretend to speak for anyone associated with them, while in fact they only speak for themselves. 

“I’ve posted innumerable times on my websites and social media noting my concerns and sharing my thoughts. I don’t pretend to be right all the time, and sometimes I’ve gone so far as to change my mind from time to time.” 

Guthrie expressed frustration with the Wikipedia entry on him, which details his days as a Republican, though it makes clear that during the 2016 election, Guthrie identified himself as an independent and said he was “equally suspicious of Democrats as I am of Republicans.” But he still feels the Wiki account is misleading. 

“If I knew how to correct the Wiki thing I would’ve done so, but I don’t, so I haven’t,” he wrote.  

Well, perhaps this story will help. 

34 thoughts on ““I’m not Republican,” Arlo Guthrie Says”

  1. john sieger says:

    To irk someone as accomplished and likable as Arlo Guthrie was never my intention. I should have dug a little deeper and gotten it right. Listening to him sing his father’s song with such tenderness and understanding should have tipped me off and I am sorry for that. I’m still not crazy about Republicans even though I know many honorable and admirable ones. Until they they start showing up to protest the fascist wannabe they enable with their silence, I will have to think of them as opportunists at best and the kind who would allow our country to devolve into another cheap dictatorship at worst.

  2. Grnpakwh says:

    I first saw Arlo when he opened for Joan Collins in 1968. Since then I have seen him countless times. His concerts have an audience reflecting his career and views. You will sit with old and young, left and right. Army vets and pacifists like myself. Arlo lives what he sings.

  3. Kenneth says:

    Arlo! Your explanation is still dubious. Libertarians are simple minded narcissists parading as ideologues. Your Dad was a leftie because he knew working folk needed a socialist movement that supported them. The two party system is a narrowing representative operation with big money hovering over it all. You’re defense is suspicious if not scary. Your wealth and privilege were threatened. Give us an apology that has an analysis that your mentor Pete Seeger would appreciate. Your not that shallow!

  4. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Glad to know Arlo Guthrie is no longer a Republican (certainly wouldn’t have guessed him being one from Alice’s Restaurant). Even better to hear that he supports issues instead of party followings!

  5. The Other Jason says:

    Well said, Arlo. Second, I’d never guess him a Republican even if he said so. And even in that case knowing he once did align there, he’d be a very moderate Republican anyway. He’s always presented himself as a thoughtful, smart person, not a loudmouth blowhard, something people of any party can be guilty of. He’s also a great entertainer.

  6. Peter Abbott says:

    John Sieger: What do you mean, “cheap”? Trump’s dangerous buffoonery will cost us a lot before he’s done.

  7. Kevin Baas says:

    Appreciate the clarification but he really should have done more research before signing on to the party of blattant and unapologetic corruption. Of course people were going to think poorly of him if he did – he should have expected that.

    Anyone who signs onto that party is either ignorant of politics, dumb, despicable, or some combination of the three. I’m sure a lot of people were confused by him registering as a Republican because he surely couldn’t have been the first of these three. Well it turns out that’s what it actually was – he was ignorant of politics. Arlo Guthrie of all people, who would’ve thought.

  8. Kevin Baas says:

    regarding the wiki page he probably wouldn’t be allowed to edit cause it would be a conflict of interest, but he could leave a note on the article’s talk page. It’s questionable how effective that would be though.

  9. blurondo says:

    The real story is that our own John Sieger, whose weekly contributions are read and admired by many, caught the attention of the son of an icon.
    Thank you, John.

  10. Kevin Baas says:

    Arlo, you are not dumb, and you are not despicable. Why?

    is this some kind of “nobody has done nothing, do I decided to do nothing” thing?
    I thought that was a joke. you are in your 70’s. do something. speak out. now. this is not it. doing make excuses.

    maybe say that for instance there Is no law that says children should be separated from their parents. or we should have sensible gun control laws.
    what happened to your spine?

    your father had one, where is yours?

  11. Sue says:

    I have been an Arlo fan since the 60’s and see him every time I can – usually 2-3 times/year. Ok, call me a groupie if you’d like but those 2-3 days make me hopeful and happy. On this very dark 4th of July, I would like to say this. When I heard that Arlo had described himself as a republican, i was distraught. We also had tickets to his concert. Although I never considered not going, I admit to being apprehensive. We attended. Within the first song, once again (as always) my heart sang. Now I am not a generally happy person. I tend toward a bit of depression and don’t generally trust what people say. I watch before I determine who someone is. With all of that, I know that Arlo is one of the most honest and right-minded people I have ever come across in this life. He is thoughtful and takes care in what he says and believes. And, he is a great musician and singer. One of the few 60’s musicians who is as good now, and in some ways better, than he was back then. Before making any judgements, go to his concerts and make yourself hopeful and happy.

  12. Bruce Murphy says:

    Blurondo, I couldn’t agree more, John has done countless great columns for us, you can find the full list here:

  13. Bar says:

    Way too long get to the point stop repeating yourself

  14. Kevin Baas says:

    Nothing against his character, just he didn’t look both ways before crossing the street. And this apology is half-ass. He doesn’t accept fault, instead he deflects. I quote “I left the party years ago and do not identify myself with either party these days. I strongly urge my fellow Americans to stop the current trend of guilt by association, and look beyond the party names and affiliations, and work for candidates whose policies are more closely aligned with their own, whatever they may be.” That’s deflection. So correction: point against his character: inability to admit a mistake. A pretty crucial character flaw.

  15. Kevin Baas says:

    Also the deflection is disingenuous at best. Congress almost always votes down party lines so the only way you can get anything done is having a 51% majority and then you get everything you want. You can espouse whatever fluffy theories make you feel good, but in practical reality, black and white. and that’s what we have to deal with: practical reality. Mass shootings at school, one for each day of the year. Taxing the poor and giving it to the rich. Attacks on the human rights of LGBT. And its always Republicans doing the despicable unanomiuosly, not this just this administration, this century. And if you have a heart which I know you do, if you are about children, if you think we are all created equal, then I can guarantee you that not one Republican congressman shares your values. The few that ever did l, such as Herbert Spencer, left the party out of disgust.

  16. Chris DiGangi says:

    No one is getting it here!! Arlo did not become a Republican because he identified with their policies!! He became a Republican, in a sense, to infiltrate them and help inject that party with a healthy dose of ethical decency!! He found out, in a relatively short period of time, that his notion, however noble, was doomed to fail, so he bailed out, soul intact! ((-_-))

  17. john sieger says:

    Kevin Bass has a lot of good things to say and I agree with a lot of them. I do think a lot of intelligent people like Arlo can sometimes make a wrong turn. I don’t he’s a villain, simply a fallible human on one over-publicized occasion. When we talk of the nastiness and utter contempt for the disadvantaged the right specializes in we shouldn’t conflate it with poor decisions made by people of good conscience who happen to find all this stuff incredibly complex and confusing. The left does not need a civil war or a purity test, we are a team and though we drive each other nuts at times, we have to stick to gather. It’s incredibly important now.

  18. Bruce Thompson says:

    Interesting that no one commented on his reason for becoming a Republican: “We had enough good Democrats. We needed a few more good Republicans.” Not exactly a heartfelt endorsement.

  19. Kevin Baas says:

    Not exactly a good reason, either. “The candidates aren’t very good, so I’m associating my name with them.” That sounds like the opposite of what you should do.

    Also, I’m not seeing the cause and effect relationship there. Did he think by registering as a Republican, Republican congressmen would become good by association or something? (i thought he didn’t believe in the by association thing.) Or that the party platform was a function of quantity?

    Doesn’t make sense.

  20. Loretta Murphy says:

    Arlo has always stood up for what he believes in. He shows far more honesty by publicly stating his beliefs than those who hide behind their political barricades and stagnant ideations. He isn’t – and never was – afraid to change his mind about his political affiliations, his religion, or anything else – and he’ll unabashedly tell you why. The one thing that never changes about Arlo, however, is his humanitarianism and his desire to use his music and his name to help his fellow man. If more politicians (and others) followed Arlo’s examples – giving back instead of taking – our society would be a better place.

    Freedom’s just another word or what? Some of you sound like he doesn’t have a right to change his political affiliation.

    In a world that changes by the minute, it is those who are wisest who change with it. This bi-polar system of government that the democrats and republicans cling to like its a life raft is slowly deflating. It has created an elitist caste of government officials that are so strongly tied to big business and personal agendas, America is in danger of strangling.

    I am proud that Arlo has become an independent – not a libertarian – an independent.

    Every individual has a right to their personal convictions – and a right to change their mind about them.

    Richard Branson, one of the most respected businessmen of today, has said “Only fools never change their minds.” but I like John H. Patterson’s older and expanded version even more ““Only fools and dead men don’t change their minds. Fools won’t and dead men can’t.”

    And even more, I like Arlo’s dad, Woody Guthrie’s take on changing your mind: “Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don’t change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow.”

    Arlo is his daddy’s son. Take him or leave him, love him or hate him, Arlo Guthrie has always spoken his mind – and has always been man enough to change it.

    Go milk your dead cows. I’m sticking with Arlo.

  21. Chris DiGangi says:

    I actually know the man little bit and have spent some time with him over the years and I’ve personally heard him talk about this, somewhat harebrained but well-intentioned act.

    He lives up in Great Berrington, MA. It’s a small conservative town. He has a community center up there (It’s the church from Alice’s Restaurant) that tries to help out with local issues but was constantly under the obstructive scrutiny of the local Republicans who were suspicious of a famous hippie musician in their community.

    he figured if he joined their party, they would get to know him, realize he is a decent guy and then he might be able to get some good things done up there. He also had this notion that we’re stuck with a two party system we can’t have one that’s just all bad. He thought he could get them working on some good things. He realized that they really didn’t care about his good intentions and bailed out.

    Problem was, it was just a juicy tidbit for the national news media and we’re still talking about it! Point of fact, it was just a local guy trying to get some things done with local politicians.
    I’ve seen it tried by friends in my own community…it never works… you can’t join them, you gotta just beat them!!

    I can also assure you he doesn’t have a Republican-leaning bone in his body when it comes to their policies.
    And, though he probably makes a very nice income (hey, he’s still a star!) he lives very modestly and virtually all of his proceeds go to help charities. He basically makes the money then hands it over!

    And that’s the truth on that! ((-_-))

  22. Mary Alice says:

    Ron Paul, though? Really? I think Arlo is a bit of a racist, too, so this doesn’t surprise me.

  23. Kevin Baas says:

    Thank you Chris, that was a much more satisfying explanation!

    Some of have learned that lesson earlier – that conservatives are very tribal tribal. It can be easy to forget how many failed attempts it took us to learn that.

    If you want to get rid of the two-party system, fight for ranked choice voting and candidates that support ranked choice voting. A single-winner plurality voting system like we have pretty much forces a two-party system. The likelihood of election or a third party candidate fails off exponentially with the size of their base.

    And you wont get support for ranked-choice voting from Republicans, they want a one-party system and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it. They have been fighting tooth and nail to take even the right to vote away by gerrymandering and vote suppression. And the legislative branch is not enough for them, they even stole a Supreme Court seat. And all of that is pre-Trump.

    in short, if you want a three party system, vote Democrat, and push for ranked choice voting. They have it in Maine now and they are loving it.

  24. mbradleyc says:

    I saw Guthrie with Pete Seeger at Summerfest back in 83 or 4. I brought my mother. This was at the old main stage. It was really nice.

    Politics weren’t involved.

  25. Chris DiGangi says:

    The attraction to Ron Paul was intentions to downsize the military & stop interfering in foreign conflicts. Quite a few liberals fell for that… until he revealed his dark underbelly.

    Arlo doesn’t have a racist bone in his body!! Bite your tongue!! he’s traveled all over Africa given benefit concerts and other third world countries too!

    I don’t know what your agenda is (slander!?) but it isn’t the truth!?

    The trolls are everywhere these days…


  26. Chris DiGangi says:

    Thanks Kevin! I thought I’d inject a little first-hand knowledge!!
    I’m with you on ranked-choice voting by the way!!
    And of course Republicans won’t go for it because they have gained the system! They are a hateful but tenacious minority and they control almost everything because they will push every envelope to warp the system in their favor !!they want nothing to do with actual rule by and for the people!

    Let’s face it it’s time for a systems overhaul!
    Get rid of the Electoral College!
    End the gerrymandering!
    And restructure the Senate so that it is democratically equitable!!

    For starters!

    And why do our votes have to be tallied in one day!?
    How about an entire week for something as important as picking our leaders!?

    The solutions are simple… implementing them with a cunning and vile less than 1% ruling class in charge of everything , well that’s another story…


  27. Kevin Baas says:

    it actually does take a few days to tally. This is generally because of smaller municipalities who are behind the technology curve. Really it should take seconds if not milliseconds to tally if done right.

    Also I wanted to note that ranked choice voting WOULD eliminate gerrymandering completely, provided its multi-member and there are at least 3 seats per district. Gerrymandering is only possible because we have a single winner plurality system, and thus 51% of the vote is the same as 99%. This allows a map drawer to shift massive amounts of voters to different district to change the result of one election, without changing the result of another. Multi-winner proportional systems like ranked choice reduce this margin of play dramatically.

  28. Comfy Chair says:

    No, Arlo is not a Republican, HE’S A CAPITALIST!

    Arlo’s class simply requires that someone use power to preserve it. And that can be a Democrat, Libertarian, or even a reprehensible amoral Republican like Trump.

    He just got caught and called out by John. NICE JOB, JOHN!

  29. Chris DiGangi says:

    Hopefully this is my last entry. Good good chatting with most of you good milwaukeeans patrols just wear me out. As for that last snarky comment about Arlo being a capitalist… I think we’re all capillus whether we like it or not in the system that we have right now.
    I have many ideas on how to improve it but that’s for another day.
    I can tell you our love works his ass off he brings much joy, humor love and fantastic music to America and the World At Large.
    His efforts sustain at least 2 wonderful nonprofits that I know of. Here they are you should all think about visiting them if you’re ever in Massachusetts or Florida. Or just making a contribution:

    Peace & Namaste ((-_-))

  30. Comfy Chair says:

    Chris DiGangi -Good bye, then. Sorry Milwaukeeans cause you such grief. As we’ve got a pretty healthy supply of self-righteous folks right here in our community, YOUR snotty, uh, I mean snarky presence will not be missed!

    Peace be with you, my son.

  31. Comfy Chair says:

    Chris DiGangi -Good bye, then. Sorry Milwaukeeans cause you such grief. As we’ve got a pretty healthy supply of self-righteous folks right here in our community, YOUR snotty, uh, I mean snarky presence will not be missed!

    Peace be with you, my son.


  32. Kevin Baas says:

    Wow, that was some random hate right there.

    I want to re-iterate my thanks to Chris DiGangi, and wanted to explain why I am grateful: I never meant any disrespect to Arlo – I only meant to say that I felt there was something missing or incomplete from the story. And I think you filled in those gaps like nobody else could.

    Again, thanks.

  33. Chris DiGangi says:

    You’re welcome Kevin! I forgot to edit my last entry so the voice to text garbled a couple words but I think you all get the gist!!
    The word ‘troll’ did not come out properly. It was a pleasure chatting with the good people of Milwaukee.
    But just like everything else these days, trolls and Trumpies are ruining everything.
    So that comfy chair hater is obviously just to troll I’m not going to waste my energy on someone like that. His comments are full of hate and have nothing to do with the truth.
    The truth is Arlo chooses to give most of the proceeds of what he learns to help needy people. I encourage people to check out his nonprofits that I listed and draw their own conclusions.
    Arlo is a National Treasure and I hope we all have many more years of enjoying his big lighthearted personality and his uniquely Arlo music!!

    Peace and Namaste Urban Milwaukeans!

  34. Chris DiGangi says:

    Last comment (I think).

    On my suggestion for taking a full week to tally the votes what I meant was keep the polls open for a full week.
    Give everybody plenty of time to get there and if there’s a horrific mistake made like Trump people aren’t stuck with him for 4 years! The way it’s set up now it’s like a game of gotcha! Fooled you into staying home now you got to deal with the fascist for 4 years…. this is not this is not an adult way to run the most powerful government in history. This is not a joke! there are existential issues for the human race and the planet at stake! The people have to take control of their government in America or else All Is Lost.

    Better times coming in November hopefully…

    Peace and Namaste! ((-_-))

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