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Poor America

Blame our financial woes on poor spellers, like the intellectual charity case in the White House.

Garrison Keillor

Here we are, ignorant peasants in our mud huts at the base of the volcano of finance, begging the gods to spare us as the ground shakes beneath our feet and economists examine the entrails of pigeons and the shamans of the Federal Reserve fling handfuls of sacred powder into the steaming crater. We live with a system rejiggered by Republicans -- freedom from regulation, but when the manure hits the ventilator, the Feds step in with a few hundred billion to rescue the players -- and nobody can tell us ignorant savages how rough the upheaval might be. Nobody knows.

Meanwhile, there were rumors of spring but then it snowed 9 inches here on the windswept tundra so there were no crocuses for us on the way to Easter, just snow and ice, and we went to celebrate the risen Lord with a certain dread of slipping and falling. You fall on ice, you could hit your head and suddenly your command of English is gone. This happens.

The fear of disaster does not slow us down much, however. We are cockeyed American optimists. We go to the Good Shepherd Home to take Uncle Gene his lily and we see old people slip-sliding along with their walkers, enduring the extreme tedium of decrepitude, and we honestly don't expect this to ever happen to us. We expect to continue singing and tap-dancing right up to The End and the roll of the credits.

The Puritans I am descended from were not cockeyed optimists. That was one reason they came to Minnesota. Living here is like being in a difficult marriage, a true test of one's mettle, and the reality is that spring is going to be a little late again and love is not all you need and to dream the impossible dream and fight the unbeatable foe does not exempt you from the laws of physics when your car hits glare ice.

We used to have a potluck culture in Minnesota -- the sharing of food as a way of life, you do your best for me, I do my best for you. But it easily breaks down: If some folks bring homemade pies and others bring a gallon of factory-made potato salad, forget it, the potluck is over. If other people don't care to make something good, then why should we? And so Aunt Elsie's excellent fried chicken passes from the scene and we settle for a Barrel O' Breasts from KFC and meanwhile standards slip in the public schools and bankers hand out high-risk mortgages.

I know a woman who at age 34 inherited a potful of cash and found a financial advisor who seemed smart enough until one day, referring to a partner in the firm, he said, "Me and him think you should stick with stocks."

"Should I accept financial advice from someone who uses Me as a subject?" she asked me.


And now I am wondering if the upheaval in finance may not be the result of the raging epidemic of poor spelling we see all around us. A college graduate just sent me an e-mail asking about a band that "one" a contest, wishing she had been "their" to see it. Misspelling drives me nuts. You young people learned spelling by the Close Enough method. As long as we know what you mean, you think it's OK. And nobody corrects you. And you go along on your merry way, and the dark clouds of Error build up in the rain forest and the ground shakes.

People accuse us liberals of permissiveness -- no no no no no. We liberals are oppressive, not permissive, working day and night to take your guns away and make you apply for a permit every time you spit. In my heart, I belong to the Correctness Party, the party of good spellers, of people who pay attention to details. The Current Occupant is not one of us. He is not a man who puts pen to paper with any confidence. Intellectually he has been a charity case all his life. He is one of those men who are lucky that their fathers were born before they were.

I vote to send him up to talk to the volcano. Let him climb up to the crater in his loincloth and crouch in the billowing steam and tell the volcano to stop shaking and stay there until it does. Him and Greenspan could do it together.

Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.

© 2008 by Garrison Keillor

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