Because Garrison Keillor is a talented writer and neighbor and has been writing on politics lately, I read his Salon piece, "Minnesota's shame," several times. It got me thinking about anger in politics and Garrison as a political performer.
First time through, I noticed Keillor, who is generally known as a humorist, isn't aiming for laughs; the passion he shows (and seeks) has no relatives in the laughter family. This time he even avoids the modulated irony he typically takes to the public. He's off his stride. He's angry.
Minnesotans remember the last time Keillor got angry in public, back in the 1980s, when he let us know he was not happy with us and then packed up and left the state, for years. This time, however, he's come out fighting, and I sense he's taking a stand and not leaving. Good. Courage and patriotism are good. In "Minnesota's shame" Keillor is much more direct, political, and sustained in his attack than I have seen him in the past, but he seems to have lost control.
Keillor pours out admiration for Paul Wellstone and savagely attacks Coleman with intent to assassinate. He states that Coleman is evil, that some people he knows think Coleman killed Wellstone, and that he (Keillor) doesn't agree with them but doesn't say why; Keillor points to Scripture and calls on God; like an angry prophet, he ends: "Sinner beware." As his title "Minnesota's shame" suggests, however, Keillor doesn't think Norm Coleman is the only sinner God should straighten out.
On my second read-through, little waves from my memory of Homer's Iliad lapped against me. I'm not saying Keillor is Achilles, but in politics, when control slips and things get nasty, anger is often the passion advancing the action. Angered at Agamemnon and the Greeks, Achilles left his fellows and sulked in his tent; then Patroclus, his friend-in-arms, died, and Achilles burst from his tent furious and murderous. What explained it? Homer opened the poem with this line "Sing Goddess of the wrath of Peleus' son Achilles."
So, that's it: Keillor's anger slipped the bounds of reason, and he wrote what he wrote. Or is that it? On my third reading, I focused on Keillor talking about himself as a performer who's been performing for a long time. I got wondering whether his essay might not be Keillor exercising his art. Was Keillor acting more like Homer than like Achilles, more like artist than like actor? Many people idolize Keillor, and he has sway over liberal-progressives in Minnesota and beyond. Certainly, it's possible Keillor wants to rally liberal Democrats after virtually nothing came up roses for them on election day. Keillor calculated that irony and humor would not rouse their passions the way a hot-blooded jeremiad would.
He'd slam and damn Coleman — and the Republicans, too, for backing him all the way. He'd say the Republicans got in a car named Unpatriotic, cynically left Main Street, drove right past Fiscal Responsibility Avenue, and then, foul to the core, drove over the hearts of all the people who cared about America and about the Americans who died on 9/11 — and to their eternal shame, Minnesotans rewarded the Republicans with the election; that's what he'd say; that's what he said. The Democrats, well, he'd say, they must remember Wellstone and walk like him: "Paul walked the walk. He was a wonder." Keillor would urge them to show passion for the not-rich and the not-privileged. But mostly, they had to hate Norm Coleman and the Republicans. Keillor would have his followers' passion, not their minds. He would excite them to Achilles-like wrath.
That then may explain what Keillor was up to in writing "Minnesota's shame," but of course if it does, what must Keillor think of his fellow Democrats — I mean if he calculated that with them he should play the demagogue?