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Keillor writes: "Never in the past fifty years have I said to myself, 'I wish I had worked harder in math.' A person can go for months without ever needing to work equations, but the English language is a big deal."

Garrison Keillor. (photo: NPR)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: NPR)

Just Looking Out a Window, Thinking

By Garrison Keillor, Garrison Keillor's Blog

12 May 19


hat was the week when Uncle Joe referred to Individual #1 as a clown. It was at a campaign stop in South Carolina and it was just a little fundraiser, not a big show in an arena with thousands in their blue MAIA caps (Make America Intelligent Again), and Uncle Joe was careful to say he didn’t intend to get into a mud wrestling match, but nonetheless there it was — Clown — and it opened up a window.

So let’s look through that window.

I’ve been to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and there are people there who, like me, weren’t good at math. I hit the wall in math in 10th grade. According to educators at the time, this meant I’d become a fry cook or a bus driver, but no, I discovered that English is the main deal and math is the road to obsolescence. The problems get harder, new math comes along, younger people take your place, and now I see my math-whiz classmates taking tickets at parking ramps.

Never in the past fifty years have I said to myself, “I wish I had worked harder in math.” A person can go for months without ever needing to work equations, but the English language is a big deal.

That is how Individual #1 came to prominence. He introduced to the highest level of government the language of the barroom and the back alley. Running for the Republican nomination, #1 called Lindsey Graham a stiff. “A total lightweight. In the private sector, he couldn’t get a job. Believe me. Couldn’t get a job.”

This was thrilling to many people who felt bad about their own lack of math skills. Nobody running for president ever talked like a gangster before and called for his opponent to be locked up. He didn’t bother with the policy crap; he was an innovator. It was like your pastor uses cuss words in the homily. It was like your brain surgeon walks into the OR with a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam in hand, smoking a cheroot, in a Carhartt jacket and a camouflage cap. All your other doctors were such elitists and this one has a degree in welding and a diagram of the brain and he is good to go. This guy talks your language.

So America is watching Uncle Joe as he looks out that window. Maybe it’s a new ballgame and a 76-year-old has to learn the rules. He already ditched the suit jacket and tie. Why not call the guy with the red tie Dumbo. Look him in the eye and say, “I promise one thing and that is that by November 2021, you are going to be in Guantanamo in a cellblock all by your lonesome self.”

Maybe that’s what wins northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and western Pennsylvania. In Madison and Ann Arbor and Philadelphia, you talk about global warming. Outstate, you praise the local football team, grab a brewski, and talk about putting people in jail.

But Joe will need to warm up in the primaries. Take on Comrade Bernie, Aimless Amy, Faded Beto, Defeated Pete, Embarrassing Harris, Foreign Warren, Chicken Soup Hickenlooper. Make up stuff. Keep changing the subject. Make illegal immigration from the north your wedge issue. Canadians speak English and easily pass for Americans and the border in North Dakota is a single strand of barbed wire. But the promise to lock him up is your trump card. No presidential candidate did that before 2016, not even Lincoln in 1860 when he ran against an out-and-out traitor.

“Send the ruler to the cooler.” Get your crowd chanting that and it’s all anybody will talk about for the next year. The nose-rubbing, the Hill hearings, the Obama years, all of that disappears.

But Uncle Joe closes that window. He’d rather run a campaign he’d be proud of and go down in defeat than go down in the history books as a mud wrestler. That’s what he’s thinking now in early May 2019.

Meanwhile, I have taken the precaution of securing a copyright on MAIA (Make America Intelligent Again) and “Send the ruler to the cooler” and some of the other ideas in this column. If Joe decides to wrestle, I’ve got truckloads of mud for sale. I went to White Castle for a bag of sliders the other day and the old guy at the counter was the smartest kid in my graduating class. He got a Ph.D. in history and wrote his thesis on the origin of the phrase “balance of powers,” and now here he is, selling fries and burgers. I put a couple bucks in his tip glass and he thanked me profusely. There is a lesson to be learned here, Joe.

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