Every so often, sitting down to your Cheerios, you open the New York Times to the crossword puzzle and find clues such as "_ Van Winkle" and "_ of 1812" and "Buried in Grant's Tomb" and you finish the thing in five minutes flat feeling brilliant and unappreciated, some sort of national treasure, and then you spend an hour searching for your glasses and car keys and that brings you down smartly to earth. For some reason, you've parked your glasses in the top drawer of the bureau next to the pewter soup spoons and the car keys in an earthenware vase atop the clavichord.
The easy crossword threw you off stride. Up here in the North we believe that adversity is a stimulus of intelligence, so we don't want our kids stuck in the slow track in school, putzing around in the shallows, trapped in boredom and lazy thinking. We want the schools to push them, make them write whole sentences and paragraphs, grapple with calculus, learn about the Renaissance, and all the more so if they're bound to become truck drivers. What is so disheartening about politics is the putzing around in the shallows. The sheer waste of time -- years, decades, spent on thrilling public issues in which the unconservative right fights tooth-and-nail against the regressive left and nothing is gained. It's like a tug-of-war between two trees.
The so-called cultural wars over abortion and prayer in the schools and pornography and gays, most of it instigated by shrieking ninnies and pompous blowhards, did nothing about anything, except elect dullards to office who brought a certain nihilistic approach to governance that helped bring about the disaster in the banking industry that ate up a lot of 401Ks, and all thanks to high-fliers in shirts like cheap wallpaper who never learned enough to let it discourage them from believing that they had magical powers over the laws of economics and could hand out mortgages by the fistful to people with no assets and somehow the sun would come out tomorrow. The anti-regulation conservatives enabled those people. We're still waiting for an apology.
And now here comes the Supreme Court, about to rule in the case of a little plywood cross erected, as it turns out, on federal land in the Mojave Desert as a memorial to war dead -- could there be anything less pressing right now? But we shall have great legal minds wrangling over something that doesn't make a dime's worth of difference to anybody whomsoever.
Thirty-six years of bitter battle over Roe v. Wade and what has it gotten us? If the decision were overturned tomorrow, not much would change. The question would revert to the states, and some would permit the termination of pregnancy, others wouldn't. Meanwhile, the effect of the battle has been quite other than what the Catholic Church could have wanted, the unleashing of angry demons, the poisoning of the body politic.
Conservatives and liberals can agree on the basics -- that the nation wallows in debt, that it is shortsighted of the states to cut back on the most essential work of government, which is the education of the young, and that somehow we have got to become a more productive nation and less consumptive -- but the ruffles and flourishes of Washington seem ever more irrelevant to the crises we face. When an entire major party has excused itself from meaningful debate and a thoughtful U.S. senator like Orrin Hatch no longer finds it important to make sense and an up-and-comer like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty attacks the president for giving a speech telling schoolchildren to work hard in school and get good grades, one starts to wonder if the country wouldn't be better off without them and if Republicans should be cut out of the healthcare system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer. Thirty-two percent of the population identifies with the GOP, and if we cut off healthcare to them, we could probably pay off the deficit in short order.
It's time to dump the dead-end issues that have wasted too much time already. Old men shouldn't be allowed to doze off at the switch and muck up the works for the young who will have to repair the damage. Get over yourselves. Your replacements have arrived, and you should think about them now and then. Enough with the shrieking. Pass healthcare reform.
(Garrison Keillor is the author of "77 Love Sonnets," published by Common Good Books.)
© 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.