Reality never seems to bite Congress
Ever since that night in June when we filed onto the football field in our mortarboards and gowns and the distinguished speaker (what was his name?) informed us that we were entering a time of rapid and unparalleled change, we've been waiting and hoping, but here we are, all grown up, and the same soupy music is dripping from the ceilings of lobbies, the internal combustion engine rules the land, ditto the hamburger, fashion is retro, movies tend to be remakes, and Congress is more like itself than it ever was before. The same stuffed peppers are harrumphing and pontificating and posing for photos with the 4-H'ers and the winners of the 2010 Western Regional Wiener Eating Contest and reading prepared statements on C-SPAN denouncing folks who would throw grandmothers down the stairs and meanwhile hustling the money and working the angles and keeping their eyes focused on their very own tasseled loafers.
When Al Franken ran for the Senate, people questioned his credentials, but good grief, people, comedy is hard work compared to harrumphing. It takes brains and elegance and courage to make people laugh. A comedian who joins the Senate has taken a step down on the social scale and everybody knows it.
Congress needs to do a few simple, sensible things just to show us they are alert and on the job. Could we start by passing a resolution ordering the Transportation Security Administration to immediately cease the PA announcements in airports warning people against accepting packages from persons unknown to carry aboard an aircraft?
This is an insult to the traveler. It's like telling people to please not approach the security checkpoint at a fast trot while yelling "Allah is great." People know not to do this. If they are likely to accept a box from a stranger who wants them to carry it to Denver and mail it, then they should not be traveling around unescorted.
Unparalleled change? I don't see it. You walk into an icy-chill shopping mall in the middle of July and imagine the consequences of all that refrigeration, our descendants living in an arid country, dwelling in abandoned office parks by the ruins of freeways and wondering how their ancestors could have been so dense. Nothing new about selfishness, nor about paranoia: For the rest of our lives we will be removing our shoes and waiting on the other side of the scanner while a nice woman wipes our laptop with a swab and puts it into an expensive machine to test for plastic explosives, and meanwhile our children go to school at 6 a.m. to save money on buses and they doze through history and algebra.
Our health care system could be fixed by smart public-spirited people in a weekend, but in our current democracy it is very hard to budge the blockade, and things may need to get much worse and Republicans be boosted back into power to propose the very same legislation they are adamantly opposed to now and the system will change a little bit.
Unreality remains pretty much the same, and its appeal in politics is as strong as ever. Look at the recent powwow of the conservative choir in Washington. Their goal is to reduce government to where it was in Coolidge's time. They are sticking to this, though their presidents, Reagan and Bush II, only succeeded in enlarging government.
As for their foreign policy, it's the old Flag In Your Face, Nuke The Whales, Talk Loud, Walk Tall, Proud To Be Dumb & Who Gives A Rip Anyway bravado that's all for domestic consumption and makes perfect sense if you're a shut-in and your TV is locked on Fox News but not if you are ambulatory and able to read English.
Meanwhile, our president, who is more or less forced to live in the real world, has seen his numbers drop alarmingly because unreality is so beautiful to so many people, such as the tea baggers. The conservatives should, in all decency, lie low for a few years. When you've driven the car into the swamp — up to our eyeballs in debt, fighting two wars on behalf of shaky regimes, trying to keep a lid on Iran, Congress in a frozen stupor — and then you throw mudballs at the tow-truck driver, you are betting on the electorate having the memory of a guppy.
You can parade up and down stark naked and pretend it's very fine silk and fool a lot of people, but eventually word will get around.
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" airs 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday on radio station KHPR 88.1 and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday on KIPO 89.3. His column appears Wednesday online at www.honoluluadvertiser.com/opinion and in Sunday's Focus section.