This democracy needs more caribou and fewer Holsteins

February 08, 2007|By GARRISON KEILLOR

As a clean and articulate man, I was surprised to see the "Biden for President" movement run over a bicycle while backing out of the driveway and then take out the gladiolas, but there it was, and the distinguished gentleman from Delaware had to go on Comedy Central to explain himself and then clarify his explanations. All of us little macacas derive some pleasure from this, of course, seeing big guys stumble. It's Darwinism in action. Your head gets too big and your pants too tight and you trip and fall down.

Amid all the stumbling and spinning and clarifying and angling in Washington, Sen. Chuck Hagel is walking tall these days. A man who can look at a disaster and call it a disaster when other people are trying to pretend it's a cabbage or a 1957 Chevy is always admirable, and of course it helps to have that heroic Roman visage of his and that rumbly Nebraska twang. If you were casting the role of Presidential Nominee, he would be it. He is a Republican dissenter, a rarity in our time, a caribou among Holsteins.

Sen. John McCain accuses opponents of the war, including Senator Hagel, of having no plan to bring it to an end. This is brazen nonsense: You drive down the wrong road and then you yell at the people in the back seat because they can't tell you an easy way to get where you want to go. Is this what passes for debate these days?

The Current Occupant has been very cordial to folks in the Democratic Party lately. This is the beauty of democracy: You are more or less forced to sit down and break bread with people you might prefer to despise, and they with you. Some Democrats are in a mood to kick shins, and they look on bipartisanship as wimping out, and that's fine for columnists and cloistered nuns - but in real life, as a rule, we coexist with the opposition.

Not so long ago, I sat down to dinner with a band of rock-ribbed conservatives in Virginia - one of those little accidents in life - and we were elaborately polite to each other, as our mothers taught us to be. Our mothers believed that showing good manners instills respect, and they were right. And thus we don't have Republicans blowing up cable cars in San Francisco or Democrats sending suicide bombers into Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

A couple of weeks ago in Minneapolis, I rode in a cab driven by a young Iraqi exile who said, sadly, "My wife's family is Sunni and I am Shia and this used to make no difference at all. We all lived together and nobody paid attention to whether you were one or the other." That's the voice of humanism speaking: Live and let live. It's a quiet voice, often drowned out, but persistent, especially in a democratic society operating under the rule of law. Tread lightly. Be patient. Try to work things out.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is speaking in that voice, and her poise and intelligence stand out in the field of candidates. She's had so much experience in the limelight that she's no longer enchanted by it. All of the articles about Whether America Is Ready To Elect A Woman have been written, and now we can move on and look at real issues. We need to figure out how to accommodate the millions of good folks who are here illegally and have become a part of our social fabric. Medicare should be extended to cover everybody. Our infrastructure and industrial base need rebuilding.

One of Mrs. Clinton's visible assets is the army of enemies she has accumulated, the carpet-chewers of AM radio and the right-wing trolls who go berserk in their webby caverns whenever madame comes trotting over the bridge. One could not hope for better enemies. It is like playing softball against drunks. They illustrate everything about Republican dominion that the country has come to loathe, the blithering arrogance, the cynicism and corruption, and this wretched war that drags on and on.

Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.

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