Eggs, please, and hold the politics The relief from Lake Wobegon

Garrison Keillor

November 04, 1992|By Garrison Keillor

ST. PAUL, MINN. — St. Paul, Minn.-- MY wife thinks it is barbaric to read a newspaper at the breakfast table and I tell her that I need a newspaper at the table, as a shield against the truth, but starting tomorrow morning I intend to reform.

The great campaign of '92 is history.

The champions have struck their poses: Bill Clinton as Youth, The Spirit of Tomorrow, and Ross Perot as The Man Who Means Bidness and George Bush as Not The Worst President There Ever Was, and any voter with a mind has made theirs up, and I have too.

I like my guy and have for a long time and was anxious to vote for him and get him off my mind and think more about middle age, which I am in the thick of, and eat breakfast in peace.

I've read and heard too much about the election and retained too little and meanwhile have turned 50, a deep chasm. The age of 49 is part of your 40s, which abut the 30s, from which you can catch a glimpse of youth, but 50 leads in one direction, toward 65.

A man wants to experience these declining years without his head stuffed with old newspapers.

I went to Britain and Denmark in September, and going there made me realize how much election news and blather I take in every day and how addicted I am to it.

In Copenhagen one Tuesday morning I actually wandered from news shop to kiosk inquiring, "Undskyld, men er det muligt at de har en New York Sunday Times?"

Nay, nay, nay, they said. I might as well have asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Over there, people were absorbed by the politics of the Maastricht treaty and I pretended to be vitally interested in it too, but European politics is a dull shoving match compared to the duel of an American election.

British papers doled out little squibs about the election, but because Brits care only about the carnival aspects of American life, Perot got most of the ink; in Copenhagen, Politiken, the leading newspaper, was even stingier.

So I suffered through Times withdrawal, aching for the two and three pages daily about the race and which horse said what, like an alcoholic trying to subsist on rum cake and then, after a week, I recovered.

The beauty of travel is escaping from information and living on experience.

Escaping from the morass of opinions, especially your own, and enjoying life in a fundamental, dumbhead way. To look at the coffee, the bread and cheese, the boiled egg, the muesli, the woman across the table from you, the squares of sunlight on the floor and to feel alive in the beautifully irrelevant moment and simply enjoy it without regard to the national deficit and the dishonesty of my generation.

My generation cheerfully robs its children in order to pay for the good life. We mortgage the Republic in order to buy ourselves expensive camcorders and watches and digital cordless phones with automatic voice scramblers.

Everyone knows this. But how often should you think about it?

A passion for politics without an interest in public service is a perversion of democracy. We live in a perverse time, when our appetite for political news is voracious and our genuine interest in government is vague and slight.

The American voter of 1892, faced with Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison and James B. Weaver, knew the Democrat stood for free trade and cheaper money, the Republican for high tariffs and the gold standard and the Populist for truth and justice.

The candidates didn't spend four months explaining to talk-show hosts who they really were and how much they loved their families. With the time our ancestors saved by not having media, they settled the prairie and made a society.

And so will I. Starting tomorrow I am going to allot 15 minutes a day to the news. The purpose of representative government is to elect others to handle public business so that the rest of us can talk with our families over breakfast.

Garrison Keillor, who voted in Lake Wobegon, is host of the "American Radio Company."

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