Baltimore Sun (Maryland)  [Printer-friendly version]
August 31, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Humorist Garrison Keillor offers a modest
proposal for setting things right again in America.]

By Garrison Keillor

It's the best part of summer, the long, lovely passage into fall. A
procession of lazy, golden days that my sandy-haired, gap-toothed
little girl has been painting, small abstract masterpieces in tempera
and crayon and glitter, reminiscent of Franz Kline or Willem de
Kooning (his early glitter period). She put a sign out front, "Art for
Sale," and charged 25 cents per painting. Cheap at the price.

A teacher gave her this freedom to sit un-self-consciously and put
paint on paper. A gentle, 6-foot-8 guy named Matt who taught art at
her preschool. Her swimming teachers gave her freedom from fear of
water. So much that has made this summer a pleasure for her I trace to
specific teachers, and so it's painful to hear about public education
sinking all around us.

A high school math class of 42! Everybody knows you can't teach math
to 42 kids at once. The classroom smells bad because the custodial
staff has been cut back. The teacher must whip his pupils into shape
to pass the federal No Child Left Untested program. This is insanity,
the legacy of Republicans and their tax-cutting and their hostility to
secular institutions.

Last spring, I taught a college writing course and had the privilege
of hanging out with people in their early 20s, an inspirational
experience in return for which I tried to harass them about spelling
and grammar and structure. My interest in being 21 again is less than
my interest in having a frontal lobotomy, but the wit and passion and
good-heartedness of these kids, which they try to conceal under their
exquisite cool, are the hope of this country. You have to advocate for
young people, or else what are we here for?

I keep running into retirees in their mid-50s, free to collect
seashells and write bad poetry and shoot video of the Grand Canyon,
and goody for them, but they're not the future. My college kids are
graduating with a 20-pound ball of debt chained to their ankles.
That's not right, and you know it.

This country is squashing its young. We're sending them to die in a
war we d on't believe in anymore. We're cheating them so we can offer
tax relief to the rich. And we're stealing from them so that old
gaffers like me, who want to live forever, can go in for an MRI if we
have a headache.

A society that pays for MRIs for headaches and can't pay teachers a
decent wage has made a dreadful choice. But health care costs are
ballooning, eating away at the economy. The boomers are getting to an
age where their knees need replacing and their hearts need a quadruple
bypass -- which they feel entitled to -- but our children aren't
entitled to a damn thing. Any goombah with a Ph.D. in education can
strip away French and German, music and art, dumb down the social
sciences, offer Britney Spears instead of Shakespeare, and there is
nothing the kid can do except hang out in the library, which is being
cut back too.

This week, we mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the
Current Occupant's line, "You're doing a heckuva job," which already
is in common usage, a joke, a euphemism for utter ineptitude. It's
sure to wind up in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, a summation of his

Annual interest on the national debt now exceeds all government
welfare programs combined. We'll be in Iraq for years to come. Hard
choices need to be made, and given the situation we're in, I think we
must bite the bullet and say no more health care for card-carrying
Republicans. It just doesn't make sense to invest in longevity for
people who don't believe in the future. Let them try faith-based
medicine, let them pray for their arteries to be reamed and their hips
to be restored, and leave science to the rest of us.

Cutting out health care to one-third of the population -- the folks
with Bush-Cheney bumper stickers, who still believe the man is doing a
heckuva job -- will save enough money to pay off the national debt,
not a bad legacy for Republicans. As Scrooge said, let them die and
reduce the surplus population. In return, we can offer them a
reduction in the estate tax. All in favor, blow your nose.

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

Copyright 2006, The Baltimore Sun