I was messing around in Tulsa, Okla., last week and got talking with a big burly man with a McCain-Palin pin on his blue blazer who told me he was descended from yellow-dog Democrats who thought the sun rose and set over FDR and Republicans were people who wore spats and top hats and sailed off Newport. So I told him that my Republican ancestors believed that only lazy people were unemployed in the '30s. He said, "So each of us is heading back to where the other one is coming from." He found that rather amusing. I said, "If that's so, I hope you're ready to be good and poor and endure some hard Minnesota winters."
"Poor, yes. Good, I'm not so sure about. Winter, no. No way."
He's proud of Tulsa, which survived the exodus of Big Oil and got into telecommunications and aeronautics, proud of its Art Deco buildings from the '20s, its art museums and ballet. "Outsiders hear Tulsa and they think Dust Bowl and Oral Roberts," he says, "but that's not who we are. This town is all about change."
I did not bother to tell him that change is exactly what the country is bursting to achieve in less than a week. Of course he knows all about it. Oklahoma seems safely red, but these days who knows? Obama looks more and more steadfast as the moment nears. The country longs for a president who can talk and think at the same time. We've been locked up with the Current Occupant for way too long and the thought of replacing him with the Angry Old Man of the Desert and Whoopee the Ice Queen is miserable in the extreme.
Most of my Republican friends are people who are not ashamed of having worked hard and done well in school, and their party's frantic appeal to anti-intellectualism is nothing they care to sign up for. Time to nip that sucker in the bud. The party needs to reform itself around some coherent philosophy of governance and vision of the future and for that, it must take a trip to the wilderness. They are quietly supporting the skinny guy this time around. They might tell a pollster otherwise but that's what they will do. Call it the Palin Effect.
Even Mr. Burly of Tulsa expressed sorrow over McCain's campaign, the jerkiness and desperation of it, and admiration for Barack's steadiness, his cool, his straightforward articulation and the old-fashioned story of his rise in the world. I thought about that the next day, flying to Philly and walking over to Independence Hall and riding the train to Lancaster through the little towns of old brick row houses, the red and golden trees, the trim farmyards and the fields of tan stubble, a state McCain has scrapped hard for even as he sank in the polls. I suppose he looks at that classic Rockwell landscape and those hardy German Lutheran faces and thinks those are his people and how can they possibly go for a Harvard Law graduate from the South Side of Chicago whose last name is Obama, for crying out loud?
They can and they will. Colin Powell was right when he called the guy a transformational candidate. We walk through the door and we close it behind us and the simplicity of it is dazzling. That's how it happens. You walk aboard a plane and glance into the cockpit and there's a woman in the left-hand seat, and who these days would even think this worthy of comment? You see Latino men and women moving up whose grandparents picked row crops for a living. In Tulsa, in 1921, there was a big race riot following the arrest of a young black man who was alleged to have touched a white woman on the arm. Fighting in the streets, neighborhoods torched, the National Guard called in -- and this story seems medieval to us, a dark age almost beyond our ken. That culture is gone, gone, gone, and on Tuesday we bury it by the simple democratic process of voting for the best man even though his father was African.
In America, a man is not held responsible for choosing his parents, only for his own life and conduct. This man promises to take us into a new era where we aren't defined by our differences, Short vs. Tall, Pale vs. Freckled, and can take a deep breath and do what's best for the country.
(Garrison Keillor is the author of a new Lake Wobegon novel, "Liberty," published by Viking.)
© 2008 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.