Garrison Keillor: Looking out for Abilene
by Garrison Keillor
Spent a weekend in Abilene, Texas, a town that voted 75 percent for the Current Occupant in 2004, and nothing bad happened to me at all, they were as friendly as could be.
Any time I sat down, they put food in front of me, and all in all they were witty and well-spoken and good to be around. So it would’ve been rude to ask them, “Why did you vote to re-elect that dope?” But I thought it.
Not that I haven’t done dumb things myself. I have. And intend to keep on doing some of them. But the Current Occupant has slept through his own presidency. He has no idea what went wrong. He knows less about governance than a cat knows about a can opener. He cut taxes during a costly war and made serious debtors of our grandchildren and he has ignored the future as if it doesn’t exist. He is now about as popular as wet socks and deservedly so. And here were the people who spawned him and we got along pretty well.
Of course it helped that I only stayed two days.
These Republicans are hardy people not given to endless self-examination of the sort that we liberal elitists practice (Why did I agree to come to Abilene? Why did I allow that woman to force that prime rib on me and the au gratin potatoes and the pecan pie? Should I have talked to her about torture?), and they stick with a position once taken and don’t admire people who waver and hedge their bets and cover their butts.
Abilene, Texas, would appear rather bleak to most people, a big khaki-colored desert with some oil wells and windmills and shopping malls and not much happening after dark, but people here are fiercely loyal to the place, and their loyalty is a great civic asset.
In a cohesive community like Abilene, so much business can be done on trust. A truck pulls up to the gate and the rancher herds 20 steers off to be slaughtered. He doesn’t count them or weigh them. Pure trust. A handshake and a wave. A week or two later, he gets a check from the buyer, whoever that may be. No IDs are verified, no bonds posted, no 10-page contract signed and notarized. You simply are part of a culture that trusts a person unless he proves untrustworthy. This can be quite astonishing if you’re from the city, but it’s fundamental to a place like Abilene.
Probably Abileneans wouldn’t really need a national government or a constitution or a judicial system, they could do O.K. on their own as seminomadic Bedouins, defending themselves, keeping order, managing their herds, enduring primitive health care, educating their kids, making the best of their earthly sojourn, and looking to the next life as the real deal.
They are a hardier strain and for them the urban America that most of us live in is laden with non-necessities. Public transportation, for example. In Abilene, people would be happy to give you a ride if you needed one. Why wait for a bus?
My fellow liberal elitists are more dependent on other people. I am, that’s for sure. I need other people to fix my car, raise my vegetables, build bookshelves, launder my shirts and clean my house, and since I need those people, I should take some passing interest in the schools their children attend and the sort of medical care available.
I don’t believe in indentured servitude, and so I want to live in a society in which the women who launder and fold my shirts get a fair deal. I don’t want my breakfast sausage to come from a packing plant like the one in Iowa that employed undocumented Mexicans and treated them like medieval serfs. So I’m a Democrat. It’s the party that has a better record of looking after the interests of people who earn less than a hundred grand a year.
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.
Garrison Keillor’s latest Lake Wobegon novel is “Liberty.”