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The Old Scout
The Master Woodsman Takes a Hike
August 14, 2007

What truly cheers me up through these dog days of summer is the thought that two old friends of mine are up north on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and that I am not there with them. I am here, reading the paper, and if I wanted to go to a movie, I could go, and if I wished to use a flush toilet, I could do that, too. But for the grace of God, I could be sitting on the ground, filthy, embittered, a homeless person, eating freeze-dried food and listening to the Master Woodsman tell you what a great experience you're having and meanwhile the woods are not lovely, just dark and deep, and a cloud of mosquitoes has come out to avenge the white man's colonizing of North America. I have been on canoe trips, I know what goes on.

Every canoe trip has a self-appointed Master Woodsman. In civilian life he may be a mild-mannered clerk in a cubicle, but out on the trail he is transformed into the songleader, pathfinder, the great helmsman, the tier of correct knots, and the authority on bears. He shows you how to do everything except the things you really need to do, such as (1) move your bowels in some dignified manner and (2) get out of here and find a hotel. Your body aches from sleeping on the ground, your bowels have turned to stone, and you are thinking about "Lord of the Flies" and what it says about the fragility of civilization, but he is relentlessly upbeat. And then it dawns on you: your suffering is what turns him on. The man is a sadist.

At this point, the Current Administration is like a very, very bad canoe trip with a week left to go, and Mr. Rove is the Head Counselor who has found a path to the highway. He left the White House with a wave and a grin and not in handcuffs as some had hoped, followed by the usual backwash of commentary on how important he was, or how not important in comparison to how important some people thought he was, and what I find eerie about the man is his inexhaustible self-confidence and optimism. He was the Master Woodsman. According to some accounts, his positive outlook was responsible for the Current Occupant's sunny disposition in the face of bad news. No wonder Mr. Rove's nickname was Turd Blossom. He could put fecal matter on his lapel and call it a boutonniere.

There are basically two types of Americans and the first is the type that most of the world considers typical: the Americans who when the big smiley preacher stands in the pulpit and says, "How about everybody turn around and shake hands with the person behind you and give them a big howdy!" they all turn around and shake and say howdy and feel sort of uplifted by this. And then there are the Americans who would do anything to avoid this, including staying away from church entirely.

The first type, when the preacher says he is now going to show us a way we can double our net worth in the next year, thinks, "Boy, this is my lucky day." The second does not.

There are more of the second type than the first.

Mr. Rove believed in himself 150 percent and believed he could make history and create the Permanent Republican Majority to run the country, but when people look at what he actually brought to pass — this wretched war that costs us $10 billion a month or more, a mortgaged economy, the corruption of the Department of Justice — somehow the P.R.M. seems less and less interesting.

His last big assignment was to get the immigration bill passed. It failed in large part because Congress is tired of Mr. Rove and his boy-genius high-handedness. Instead, Homeland Security announced a new crackdown on illegal immigrants, which aroused protests from farmers who said that 70 percent of farmworkers today are illegal — a stunning fact, if true: most of the people who pick our beans and tomatoes are men and women forced to sneak across the border, and why? Because they're a security threat? No. So that we can get them cheap, that's why.

Mr. Rove spoke with great confidence about beans and tomatoes and showed slides and got standing ovations in many places, but he didn't get the crops in. Goodbye and good riddance.

© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.



From the Desk of Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville


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