From the Desk of Garrison Keillor
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.

The Voters are Angry
From The New York Times

August 1994

The voters are angry. There was a front-page story in the Times last week about the mood of the electorate ("Anger and Cynicism Well Up In Voters as Hope Gives Way") in which an anesthesiologist in Savannah and a retired civil servant in Richmond each announced that he is thinking of moving to Costa Rica because of how bad things are in the U.S.A. these days. The anesthesiologist said that, in ten years, it is not going to be economically feasible to live in this country. The retired civil servant said the tax laws are more favorable in Costa Rica, there's less crime, you can raise your children as you see fit, and you can defend yourself and your property.

The retired civil servant, the story said, is 53 years old, and one might point out to him that some of the taxes that make him angry and cynical go to pay the pensions of public employees who get to retire in the prime of life. As for the anesthesiologist, I had always thought it was a line of work that paid tolerably well, but perhaps I was wrong.

I say that if these angry voters think that America is on the rocks and that Costa Rica offers them the good life, then God bless them and grant them generous tax advantages, and if the anesthesiologist wants to learn how to say, "Count backward from one hundred," in Spanish and deliver good health care to Costa Ricans, then God speed. But shouldn't someone warn the Costa Ricans that these men are coming? Does Costa Rica really need a lot of Republican boat people with all their high expectations of what society owes them.

The article is very illuminating. It says that the angry, cynical voters are themselves doing okay financially and don't seem to be upset about specific issues --- the voters' anger, say opinion polls, is due to uncertainty about the future and a feeling that they aren't getting ahead.

How can I say this diplomatically? In the adult segment of your life, Angry Voter, in the part of your life that comes after your parents kiss you goodbye and kick you out, the future is always uncertain. Even in the past, the future was uncertain, and it always will be. And if you don't get ahead, you aren't entitled to blame the President, the Congress, or your poor old mom and dad. This is true even in Costa Rica. I thought everybody knew this.

Another voter in the article, a businesswoman in Oakland, said, "There's a sense that the system is broken." Perhaps there is such a sense, but if you want to see what a broken system looks like, check out Haiti or Iraq. Back in the Vietnam era, people talked a blue streak about the system being broken, but was it? Water came out of the tap, your toilet flushed, the buses ran, the schools taught your kids, you paid your taxes, the mailman came, the paper landed on your porch in the morning with a fiery editorial against darkness and corruption --- what else is the system supposed to do for you? It can't come to your home and blow your nose. You have to do that yourself, my dear.

This is the age of the dumbing of America, and frankly, the cynicism of people who didn't know that much to begin with is not of great interest. Is there a single newspaper in America that covers the work of the U.S. Congress with anything like the thoroughness and flair that it brings to its coverage of professional football? Everyone I know who ever took a trip to Washington and got a first-hand look at government came away impressed with the workings of it. Maybe the casual cynicism of the voters reflects the cynicism of lousy journalists.

Newspapers are keenly aware of a younger generation of non-readers that does not care whether it sees a newspaper in the morning or not, and newspapers are trying to appeal to this generation by being as dumb as possible. In the mind of a not very bright fourteen-year-old, the entire adult world consists of dolts and jerks and meanies, and that is how reporters tend to write about government these days. Look at the carpet-chewing editorials and the gothic conspiracy tales that have come down on the President in the past year. Can you blame the American voter if he believes some of what he reads?

We are becoming a nation of soreheads, and so this fall, we probably will go to the polls and shoot ourselves in the foot. Good for us, I say. I say the Angry Cynical Voters should elect a Congress of pinheads, nincompoops, and radio talk show hosts, and then in 1996, they should elect Newt Gingrich to be our angry cynical President. He and the Congress can cut taxes in half, triple defense spending, build a naval base in the Okeefenokee Swamp, require all public schools to teach the doctrine of original sin and all public employees to part their hair in the middle, require all cars to come equipped with gun mounts, follow nincompoopery wherever it leads them. Elect the worst Congress you can find, and the system still will not break, and I won't go to Costa Rica. America will still be a great country, despite angry cynical politicians. That is the great thing about America.

Past Articles
  • Phil Keillor Benefit for the Tenney Park Shelter (04/17/09)
  • Bill Holm, 1943–2009 (02/26/09)
  • Happy New Year, Friends (12/29/08)
  • Talk of the Stacks (11/17/08)
  • What Makes St. Paul So Great? (09/03/08)
  • GK On Historic Preservation (10/05/07)
  • Welcome to St. Paul (09/23/06)
  • "Homegrown Democrat," Chapters 1-4 (08/10/04)
  • Sing the National Anthem—and Try it in the Key of G (07/02/04)
  • Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor (12/23/03)
  • Remembering Plimpton (10/01/03)
  • Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy (04/19/02)
  • A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways (10/19/01)
  • In Praise of Laziness (09/10/01)
  • I Just Needed a Valve Job (09/13/01)
  • A Eulogy for Chet Atkins (07/03/01)
  • A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra (04/01)
  • Exile on Main Street (10/02/00)
  • Walking Down the Canyon (07/31/00)
  • The Mysteries of Prom Night (05/15/00)
  • How I Write (12/04/99)
  • The Christmas of the Great Flu (12/99)
  • Let Jesse Be Jesse (10/10/99)
  • The Rice, the Bat, the Baby (09/06/99)
  • Faith at the Speed of Life (06/14/99)
  • The Republicans Were Right, But (02/15/99)
  • Minnesota's Excellent Ventura (11/16/98)
  • The Dangers of Christmas (04/06/98)
  • Gasgate (11/10/97)
  • Talk Radio (10/97)
  • The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas (09/08/97)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins—Envy (04/97)
  • You Say Potato (04/04/96)
  • The Poetry Judge (02/96)
  • With All the Trimmings (11/27/95)
  • In Autumn We Get Older (11/06/95)
  • Minnesota's Sensible Plan (09/11/95)
  • The Art of the Embrace (02/95)
  • The Voters are Angry (08/94)
  • Word Play (05/18/90)
  • We Are Still Married (12/18/89)
  • Elevator Tales
  • A Graduation Speech

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