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The Old Scout
The Old Man's Technical Foul
August 6, 2008

It's a simple, cheerful life but with occasional grim complications that one simply ignores, such as mortality or the Seventies or the demise of the downtown department store. I love my downtown store, a block from the old stone courthouse where Alvin (Creepy) Karpis of the Ma Barker gang was tried for kidnapping in 1936, near a fine old popcorn shop, just down the street from a haberdashery where the other day I got fitted for a seersucker suit and was shown how to tie a bowtie. A great mystery, like the Trinity, suddenly made clear. You don't get this sort of instruction at a mall.

With a seersucker suit and a bowtie, I am equipped to run for public office on the States' Rights ticket and stand up for Our Way of Life and let's support our boys fighting for Unconditional Victory in Korea — that's what I associate with seersucker, a man perspiring heavily and mopping his brow with Coca-Cola and crying out against the gummint and pointy-heads who interfere with Our Way of Life. A charlatan, in other words. My daily uniform is black T-shirt and jeans, which, if you saw me on the street and didn't know me, might lead you to believe I speak French and love jazz. Non non non, madame! Je suis un authentique Americain.

An American guy is capable of many costumes — Riverboat Gambler, Sensitive Aesthete, Wilderness Scout, Lounge Lizard, House Husband, Dangerous Radical and Scourge of Society, Aging Preppie — and I've tried out most of them, but as you enter your golden years, your interest in masquerade naturally diminishes, and so it's interesting to see America's Oldest Presidential Candidate out on the hustings transforming himself into a yahoo and a cracker. Whatever consultant told him to do this is being paid way too much.

The political exploitation of wounded American soldiers by John McCain and his eagerness to introduce race into the race was yahoo behavior, but never mind — if you lived through the Nixon years and then read the transcripts of the tapes, you are not surprised by anything in politics whatsoever. A bitter, paranoid man of towering personal insecurity, Nixon talked like Broderick Crawford and thereby beat a decorated war hero, George McGovern, even as Nixon was directing an American retreat and defeat in Vietnam that he (and McCain) blamed on student protesters. And the famous G-man J. Edgar Hoover was gay. He and his lover, Clyde Tolson, brought Alvin Karpis to St. Paul for the trial. So what? It's an amazing country.

It's an amazing country where an anthrax researcher working for the Defense Department may have carried out a murderous campaign with anthrax and thereby succeeded in winning vast new appropriations for the anthrax program.

And it's an amazing country where an Arizona multimillionaire can attack a Chicago South Sider as an elitist and hope to make it stick. The Chicagoan was brought up by a single mom who had big ambitions for him, and he got scholarshipped into Harvard Law and was made president of the law review, all of it on his own hook, whereas the Arizonan is the son of an admiral and was ushered into Annapolis though an indifferent student, much like the Current Occupant, both of them men who are very lucky that their fathers were born before they were. The Chicagoan, who grew up without a father, wrote a book on his own, using a computer. The Arizonan hired people to write his for him. But because the Chicagoan can say what he thinks and make sense and the Arizonan cannot do that for more than 30 seconds at a time, the old guy is hoping to portray the skinny guy as arrogant.

Good luck with that, sir.

Meanwhile, the casual revelation last month that McCain has never figured out how to use a computer and has never sent e-mail or Googled is rather startling. It's like admitting that you've never clipped your own toenails or that you didn't know that toothpaste comes out of a tube because your valet always did that for you. It's like being amazed at the sight of a supermarket scanner. What world does McCain live in? Where does he keep his sense of curiosity? My 94-year-old mother has sent e-mail. Does somebody plan to show him how it's done and will they explain to him what "LOL" means?

© 2008 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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Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

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