A Prairie Home controversy

Rod Dreher isn't happy with Garrison Keillor:

Well, this weekend he went to Abilene, a small city in west Texas, and has written a column marveling over how even though they're all a bunch of Republicans, they actually were nice to him. He did end his piece on a grace note, though:

"But it's good to be among the opposition and know them as fine upstanding people. At the dinner where I was forced to eat the prime rib, we all sat around afterward and sang "I'll Fly Away" and "God Bless America" and "How Great Thou Art" and "Home on the Range" and a dozen other songs we all knew, and it was a lovely evening a couple weeks before a big election. We still do know some of the same songs, we Americans. Deep down, we are loyal to each other. And the truth is marching on."

Nice, that. I just wish it didn't come out of him as so grudging and condescending. It's like he was pleasantly surprised that the folks in Abilene weren't mouth-breathing troglodytes ready to lynch Meskins and nigras.


Here's my response, which I posted as a comment on his blog:


I just don't know.

Maybe it's because I'm not from the South, and so don't identify with Southern culture and norms. Maybe it's because I'm a Californian, and therefore view things through a different lens. Maybe it's because my family is largely from midwestern Scandinavian stock, and Keillor's rhythms and cadences are those of my extended family, like hearing the voice of a beloved uncle telling stories after dinner. Maybe it's because I travel to southern Oklahoma every couple of years for a family reunion on my wife's family's farm, something I look forward to eagerly despite an awareness of the differences between her cousins' outlook on life and our own. Could be any of those things, but I read his column and I'm just not seeing the sneering condescension that others seem to be reading into it.

First, you have to remember who Keillor is. He's a Minnesotan, a Democrat, whose career is largely based on a show he started in the 1970s on public radio, and the books that have flowed from it. Given that background, I'd be mightily surprised if he liked George W. Bush (the "Current Occupant," as he puts it), and of course he doesn't.

Second, you have to remember who he's writing for--Salon, whose subscribers likely tilt substantially to the left. To some extent, he's explaining Red America to Blue America, and Red America may be uncomfortable with its depiction, which is actually somewhat affectionate.

Affectionate? Yes. Go back and read it again. He talks of the civic virtues of the citizens of Abilene, "fine upstanding people," their pride in their community and the admirable qualities they evince, things like their firmness in their beliefs, their self-reliance, and their steadfastness of character. He writes of it being a lovely evening overall, with an implied recognition that we are all Americans, all part of the same tribe in the end despite the divisions in our culture and society.

What he's saying is really no different than how I feel about my wife's family in Oklahoma. I love them, although we come from different places and don't agree on everything, and I am baffled by some of their politics. I'd love to argue about it with them, but like Keillor I was raised by midwesterners and there's something inside that says, "Don't be rude." So I'm not. Instead, I enjoy the barbecue and lavish praise on the rhubarb pie. But in the end, we're all family, and that's what really matters--and that's what I heard Keillor saying between the lines in his column.

With a couple weeks to go in this election campaign, and things getting somewhat hysterical as we race towards the finish line, I wish more people would realize that.

Read Keillor's original column here.