T Nation

Truth in the Desert of Lies This Election Year...

We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore

By Garrison Keillor

Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party. Once, it was the party of pragmatic Main Street businessmen in steel-rimmed spectacles who decried profligacy and waste, were devoted to their communities and supported the sort of prosperity that raises all ships. They were good-hearted people who vanquished the gnarlier elements of their party, the paranoid Roosevelt-haters, the flat Earthers and Prohibitionists, the antipapist antiforeigner element. The genial Eisenhower was their man, a genuine American hero of D-Day, who made it OK for reasonable people to vote Republican. He brought the Korean War to a stalemate, produced the Interstate Highway System, declined to rescue the French colonial army in Vietnam, and gave us a period of peace and prosperity, in which (oddly) American arts and letters flourished and higher education burgeoned – and there was a degree of plain decency in the country. Fifties Republicans were giants compared to today’s. Richard Nixon was the last Republican leader to feel a Christian obligation toward the poor.

In the years between Nixon and Newt Gingrich, the party migrated southward down the Twisting Trail of Rhetoric and sneered at the idea of public service and became the Scourge of Liberalism, the Great Crusade Against the Sixties, the Death Star of Government, a gang of pirates that diverted and fascinated the media by their sheer chutzpah, such as the misty-eyed flag-waving of Ronald Reagan who, while George McGovern flew bombers in World War II, took a pass and made training films in Long Beach. The Nixon moderate vanished like the passenger pigeon, purged by a legion of angry white men who rose to power on pure punk politics. “Bipartisanship is another term of date rape,” says Grover Norquist, the Sid Vicious of the GOP. “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The boy has Oedipal problems and government is his daddy.

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Rich ironies abound! Lies pop up like toadstools in the forest! Wild swine crowd round the public trough! Outrageous gerrymandering! Pocket lining on a massive scale! Paid lobbyists sit in committee rooms and write legislation to alleviate the suffering of billionaires! Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight! O Mark Twain, where art thou at this hour? Arise and behold the Gilded Age reincarnated gaudier than ever, upholding great wealth as the sure sign of Divine Grace.

Here in 2004, George W. Bush is running for reelection on a platform of tragedy?the single greatest failure of national defense in our history, the attacks of 9/11 in which 19 men with box cutters put this nation into a tailspin, a failure the details of which the White House fought to keep secret even as it ran the country into hock up to the hubcaps, thanks to generous tax cuts for the well-fixed, hoping to lead us into a box canyon of debt that will render government impotent, even as we engage in a war against a small country that was undertaken for the president’s personal satisfaction but sold to the American public on the basis of brazen misinformation, a war whose purpose is to distract us from an enormous transfer of wealth taking place in this country, flowing upward, and the deception is working beautifully.

The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has survived this. The election of 2004 will say something about what happens to ours. The omens are not good.

Our beloved land has been fogged with fear – fear, the greatest political strategy ever. An ominous silence, distant sirens, a drumbeat of whispered warnings and alarms to keep the public uneasy and silence the opposition. And in a time of vague fear, you can appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution, eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich.

There is a stink drifting through this election year. It isn’t the Florida recount or the Supreme Court decision. No, it’s 9/11 that we keep coming back to. It wasn’t the “end of innocence,” or a turning point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse of security. And patriotism shouldn’t prevent people from asking hard questions of the man who was purportedly in charge of national security at the time.

Whenever I think of those New Yorkers hurrying along Park Place or getting off the No.1 Broadway local, hustling toward their office on the 90th floor, the morning paper under their arms, I think of that non-reader George W. Bush and how he hopes to exploit those people with a little economic uptick, maybe the capture of Osama, cruise to victory in November and proceed to get some serious nation-changing done in his second term.

This year, as in the past, Republicans will portray us Democrats as embittered academics, desiccated Unitarians, whacked-out hippies and communards, people who talk to telephone poles, the party of the Deadheads. They will wave enormous flags and wow over and over the footage of firemen in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and bodies being carried out and they will lie about their economic policies with astonishing enthusiasm.

The Union is what needs defending this year. Government of Enron and by Halliburton and for the Southern Baptists is not the same as what Lincoln spoke of. This gang of Pithecanthropus Republicanii has humbugged us to death on terrorism and tax cuts for the comfy and school prayer and flag burning and claimed the right to know what books we read and to dump their sewage upstream from the town and clear-cut the forests and gut the IRS and mark up the constitution on behalf of intolerance and promote the corporate takeover of the public airwaves and to hell with anybody who opposes them.

This is a great country, and it wasn’t made so by angry people. We have a sacred duty to bequeath it to our grandchildren in better shape than however we found it. We have a long way to go and we’re not getting any younger.

Dante said that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in time of crisis remain neutral, so I have spoken my piece, and thank you, dear reader. It’s a beautiful world, rain or shine, and there is more to life than winning.

-Garrison Keillor-

Eh, just Garrison Keillor ranting from his soapbox again. Apparently once he was known as something of a humorist. The only thing funny, really, is how the fevers of his mind have spoiled his own little imaginary world of “Lake Wobegone.”

Simply beautiful, in its truth-fullness!

[quote]stu-padaso wrote:
The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few is the death knell of democracy. No republic in the history of humanity has survived this.[/quote]

Wow… so many things it’s impossible to know where to start. So in the interest of brevity I will point out that a republic characterized by the forced redistribution of wealth from the productive class to the non-productive class is a Soviet Republic.

Hahahaha. Not quite. You will notice, if you look, that those at the top in the Soviet Republic had all the power and all the money.

The Soviet Republic, especially when it fell, had nothing to do with trying to distribute wealth to the non-productive class.

I think the author was trying to warn us that when all the power and all the money is concentrated in the hands of the few, that there is trouble brewing regardless of the political model of the country in question.

You see, when people have power they tend to tilt the playing field in their favor, and it eventually pisses off enough people that they might actually do something about it.

[quote]Elkhntr1 wrote:
Simply beautiful, in its truth-fullness![/quote]

why is this not considered spouting propaganda like you consider bb and his articles? could it be because it supports your pov?

DaMan,

Perchance, could it be because the article doesn’t pretend it is something other than an opinion piece?

Keillor is actually a very good writer and very funny guy.

He’s way off the mark, of course, assuming he’s not just being hyperbolic to be funny.

He’s doing his best P.J. O’Rourke.

Couple of things I’d add after reading a second time.

Modern liberals, if they are intellectually honest, should hate Lincoln. Keillor trumpeting Lincoln is a bit misguided. Liberals forget that in the name of ending slavery and preserving the Union, he brought a hellish, uncompromising war to his enemies, suspended habeas corpus, thumbed his nose at the Supreme Court, and was pilloried in the press as a bumpkin warmonger.

Demonstrations of that kind of moral stubbornness and courage today is the bane of the modern Liberal.

Secondly, Keillor qoutes:

“Dante said that the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who in time of crisis remain neutral…”

It reads “the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those that remain neutral in a moral crisis.”

I’m not nitpicking on one word - but in the context of the quote, it is a condemnation of amoralism, which, in our modern age - amoralism is the exclusive province of guys like Keillor.

[quote]vroom wrote:
DaMan,

Perchance, could it be because the article doesn’t pretend it is something other than an opinion piece?[/quote]

since when is the 9/11 comission report an op ed? bb has quoted that on multiple occassions. how is that propaganda?

Democrats are cute.

I wish I could vote for Kerry!!! What an achiever!!! He’ll fix Iraq!!! He’ll get the International Community to commit troops!!! How, you ask? Just by showing up!!! The French and Germans really don’t mean it when they say even with a kerry win they won’t committ troops. What a plan!!! So well thought out!!

He’ll train the Iraqi Police/National Guard more quickly!!! Great thinking!!! It’s the speed of training that has been the issue all along!!! Great!!! If it isn’t going as planned, we’ll fly them outside Iraq to train!!! Great!!! It ought to be cheap and easy to fly them to Camp Pendleton!!

He would be such an effective legislator!!! His record is so strong in that regard!!! He’ll get plenty of bills through a Republican Congress!!! They’ll all love him thoroughly with his wonderful ideas and the consumate skill by which he crafts bills!!!

He’ll provide jobs!!! How? By stopping outsourcing for every company except his wife’s!!! That should work great!!! He didn’t really vote for NAFTA!!! He was bamboozled by the evil Republicans!!!

He’ll decrease health care costs!!! How? By raising taxes and providing coverage to 40 million more people!!! Great!!! Then he will mandate that three frivilous lawsuits, gets the lawyers in trouble!!! Great!!! They’ll have an enormous incentive to stop friviolity during their first two cases!!!

He’ll pay down the debt by half over his term!!! Great!!! How? By rolling back the tax cuts to the evil rich people!!! Great!!! Even though that will curtail investment and hiring!!! Great!!!

Kerry is SUPER!!! What a leader!!!

JeffR

DaMan,

BB quotes all kinds of things. Don’t pull a bait and switch on us. You can’t hold up the odd real item and squeeze the rest of the articles under that umbrella.

As for Lincoln, did he promote a war by spreading intelligence mistakes (when he was pushing for them to reach the conclusions he wanted) to the populace? Democrats aren’t against wars, only unnecessary wars.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Democrats aren’t against wars, only unnecessary wars.[/quote]

Like the first gulf war…you know, the one Kerry voted against.

[quote]vroom wrote:
DaMan,

BB quotes all kinds of things. Don’t pull a bait and switch on us. You can’t hold up the odd real item and squeeze the rest of the articles under that umbrella.[/quote]

I couldnt ask for better lead-ins… Yes BB quotes op-ed, as do you and others. He also quotes objective pieces-far more than any other on this board from my casual observations. Just on the front page of this board BB has quoted:

pbs.org (2)
nationalreview.com (4)
dod.mil
cfr.org
pejmanesque.com
ejectejecteject.com
washingtonpost.com (3)
overlawyered.com
senate.gov (2)
www.belgraviadispatch.com (2)
nytimes.com (2)
justoneminute.typepad.com
washingtonpost.com (4)
www.techcentralstation.com
factcheck.org (4)
democrats.org
mercurynews.com
govexec.com
sec.gov

and i grow tired of perusing posts… so, lets see, of 23 total quotes that i located, we have pbs, dod, cfr, senate.gov, factcheck.org, sec.gov, etc.

you are correct that he does often quote op-ed, but never does he claim it is anything but op-ed.

Yet, when he quotes things such as the 9/11 comission or government reports, you and others act as if he is again quoting op-ed. Then you and/or others applaud others for op-ed pieces that support your/others pov. It is hypocritical to me. That is essentially my point. op-ed is either good or bad, not good or bad depending on what pov it supports…

i am in no way shape or form trying to defend BB, because he could probably do it better… It just strikes me as odd when I see things such as these happening, and for some reason I felt the need to post concerning it.

[quote]vroom wrote:

Hahahaha. Not quite. You will notice, if you look, that those at the top in the Soviet Republic had all the power and all the money.

The Soviet Republic, especially when it fell, had nothing to do with trying to distribute wealth to the non-productive class. [/quote]

Yeah, pretty much like all the other countries in which communists took control of private wealth with the promise of redistributing to the poor, and then killed many of their productive citizens and kept the power and money in the hands of the party members, while continuing to exploit the poor – they did manage to even things out pretty well – of course, that was by making everyone poor…

[quote] I think the author was trying to warn us that when all the power and all the money is concentrated in the hands of the few, that there is trouble brewing regardless of the political model of the country in question.

You see, when people have power they tend to tilt the playing field in their favor, and it eventually pisses off enough people that they might actually do something about it.[/quote]

I love it when people take a perfectly valid economic theory and try to apply it where it does not apply.

One of the main reasons we have been seeing an increased aggregation of wealth, as opposed to income, in the U.S. is simple demographics. People are living longer, and retaining assets that in previous generations would already have been distributed down to younger folks. In addition, people are working longer into their primary earning years – when they make more money.

On top of that, you have an increasing number of younger people putting off entering into the work force to increase their educations – they are staying as “poor students” in terms of their wealth even as they accumulate the intellectual capital that will allow them to earn more later.

Take me for example. I didn’t start working as a lawyer until I was 28. My dad started working when he was 24 (after two years of earning a smaller paycheck in the active duty navy). His dad started working when he was 21. And 3 of my 4 grandparents are still alive, for which I am grateful – they’re in their 80s. My fiancee’s grandmother just turned 92, and her parents are in their 60s – and still working (even though they don’t need to be – they’re quite comfortable, and set up through the retirement years).

Combine these demographic trends with the idea that many people move up the wealth percentiles throughout their working lives, and you see that the combination of longer lifespans and people who will be high earners staying longer in schools has a large effect on that silly statistic measuring the “income gap” between those who have the most wealth and those with the least.

Add the immigration level on top of that – how many rich immigrants are coming over here to work? – and you have another driver of that statistic.

So, theoretically it’s a bad thing if all the wealth in a society is concentrated in the hands of a few. Fine. No argument. But, in addition to the fact that the U.S. “wealth gap” is nothing compared to the third-world countries for which it is a problem, some of the main reasons why our wealth gap is growing are the same as the reasons why our economy is so efficient and are a function of our higher standard of living.

Basically, the point of the above is that the cause of the “wealth gap” and the cause of its vector is at least as important as the direction of the vector or the size of the gap.

If it makes more sense, I can make the point this way: One of the effects of a large-scale AIDS epidemic that hit the poor harder than the rich would be the shrinkage of the size of the gap. Forced relocation of the poor would as well. How do I know this? Just look at the stats for Africa…

[quote]vroom wrote:
The Soviet Republic, especially when it fell, had nothing to do with trying to distribute wealth to the non-productive class.

I think the author was trying to warn us that when all the power and all the money is concentrated in the hands of the few, that there is trouble brewing regardless of the political model of the country in question.

You see, when people have power they tend to tilt the playing field in their favor, and it eventually pisses off enough people that they might actually do something about it.[/quote]

OK… points taken. So when America finally caves to socialism (make no mistake, it IS coming. Almost enough people are begging for it now), can we assume that the power structure will not be interested in redistributing wealth here either?

Point 2 assumes a finite economic pie, which is a false concept, especially in a freely-functioning capitalistic environment. The only thing, or at least the most significant thing, standing in the way of people creating their own fortunes, other than their own personal laziness and/or poor decision making that is, is… excessive government intervention, in the form of, for example, burdensome environmental rules, excessive taxation of personal and corporate income, incentive-sapping “social benefits” (read: free lunch at someone else’s expense) and wasteful spending (of which both sides of the aisle are soundly guilty).

And quite frankly, I wish more people were as pissed off and sick of it as I am.

DaMan,

I think you are missing my point. When BB quotes things, not always, but often they are used to support a short quip or viewpoint expressed with it. Upon reading the source material it sometimes, not always, only supports the contentions made if you are willing to play word games.

The post at the top of this thread isn’t used in support of anything, it’s just dropped there for people to read. There are no claims except for any that the posted piece itself might make for itself. There is no proffering of support between statements of the poster and the message.

Is that fair?

Biltrite,

Sure, throw an example of a democrat who appears to be against something. Of course you can find an example democrat or republican to support or oppose anything you like. The point is that not all democrats are going to fit the label of being a peacenik.

As for Kerry and the Kuwait war, I’d have to do some reading to see what exactly was voted for or against and why. I honestly don’t know the details around his vote at that time. Voting records are often manipulated by both parties and are a generally a poor reflection of the reasoning or mindset of any candidate.
Surely everyone knows that by now?

BB,

I don’t know what you are going on about, I wasn’t applying an economic theory to anything. Did I say anything about an increased aggregation of wealth or anything like that.

Oh, I guess you are arguing against the contentions of the original author in your response to me. Did you think I was trying to agree with the authors economic contentions by talking about the conditions in the Soviet Republic or something?

Bandgeek,
I’m all in favor of the American dream. I’m not talking about a finite economic pie or anything like that. Some things are not simple equations, especially when you are dealing with people.

Politics are a good example of this. When people believe something, whether or not it is true, it will affect their behavior. When people have their hopes and dreams crushed, they will look for a scapegoat.

I am not arguing against the American dream, democracy, capitalism or anything else. Heck, I’m not criticising anything at all. I was merely saying that when there is a huge class that believes itself to be down-trodden, then their is trouble a brewing. I’m also not saying that is the case now.

[… edited to fix quoting errors …]

[quote]vroom wrote:
DaMan,

I think you are missing my point. When BB quotes things, not always, but often they are used to support a short quip or viewpoint expressed with it. Upon reading the source material it sometimes, not always, only supports the contentions made if you are willing to play word games.

The post at the top of this thread isn’t used in support of anything, it’s just dropped there for people to read. There are no claims except for any that the posted piece itself might make for itself. There is no proffering of support between statements of the poster and the message.

Is that fair?

[/quote]

why would it be unfair? anyone is free to refute it, or post articles with opposing viewpoints. bb never claimed it was the end all be all or anything of the sort. why is that not fair?

I generally don’t join in these discussions, because in most cases, no one convinces anyone else of anything. Most of the time, you guys are just shouting past each other.

That being said, and being in my 50’s, I can say that, while Keillor engages in hyperbole, his underlying point is valid. The Republican party HAS changed.

When I was growing up, deficit spending was a Democratic vice; now apparently, it is a Republican virtue. It was the Democrats who got us into wars, not the Republicans – I recall my father fulminating about how Wilson got us into WW I, FDR got us into WW II, Truman got us into the Korean War, and Johnson got us into Vietnam. Eisenhower was elected because he implied that he had a plan (didn’t actually say so, though – he said, “I will go to Korea,” but that was enough to convince a majority of American voters) to get us out of Korea. Nixon was elected because (among other things), he said, he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam. He did have a plan, and he did end the war (for Americans), although there were plenty of things to criticize in between.

You didn’t used to have to adopt all the views of, if not become, an evangelical Christian to be a Republican. Even the most arch-conservative of Republicans of that day, Barry Goldwater, was appalled at the transformation of the Republican party. He was highly critical of the religious right’s takeover of the party, particularly, the way they made abortion such a central issue of the platform in the '80’s. When he died, he was probably the last pro-choice Republican on the planet.

I suppose that the Republicans had little choice but to go the way they have after Bill Clinton so cleverly co-opted Republican economic policies and not only balanced the budget, but actually put it into a surplus. If you are under the age of 50, you may not realize what a monumental thing that was, whether you give Clinton the credit or say that it was caused by a fortuitous confluence of economic conditions.

In all honesty, I have to say that the president Bush reminds me of most is Johnson – Johnson ran up a huge deficit because he wanted to be able to fight a war and fund his social programs, but didn’t (or couldn’t) raise taxes any higher than they already were. That ended up causing decades of inflation. Now we have Bush fighting an open-ended war without paying for it with current revenues . . .

Donald Rumsfeld reminds me of Robert MacNamara. MacNamara was going to transform the military with modern management techniques brought in from private industry. Rumsfeld is going to transform the military with modern technology brought in from private industry . . .

Call me old and cynical, but it seems to me that history is beginning to repeat itself.

If we don’t pay for this war now, our children will have to pay for it later – at the same time they have to underwrite the cost of social security for me and others. A “tax break” now without fiscal responsibility, just means a heavier tax burden later.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether this war was a good or a bad idea. But the fact is, it uses up resources, not only physical, but also human. With 1000+ dead, and what, 7000+ wounded, many of them permanently disabled, we have to ask how this fight can continue indefinitely and whether we are able to address the next, perhaps simultaneous, threat.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be on the radar scope is that the still-living and unwounded will eventually lose their fighting ability as well. The average soldier has about 90 days of heavy combat in him before losing combat effectiveness due to stress. That’s not defeatism, it is simple reality. (This estimate is based on studies cited in David Grossman’s “On Killing”. Grossman is a former Army psychologist with impeccable credentials – read the book if you feel the urge. It’s in print and can be found at B&N, Borders, Amazon, etc.) So, without fresh soldiers, we simply can’t expect to keep rotating units in and out of Iraq and maintain effective fighting strength for other eventualities, too.

Porkchop