In sweet July, the dumb stuff doesn’t matter

Published 5:13 pm Saturday, July 19, 2008

Summer nights! The fragrant dark descends, the night creatures chitter and chirrup, and we linger on the porch, a little wine in the glass, children coming and going, and we inhale the sweetness of life. In Pasadena, people are lined up outside a bank, hoping to get their money out before it goes belly-up, and Mr. John McCain’s friend Mr. Phil Gramm says we are a nation of whiners complaining about a recession that is only mental, but we are engulfed in summer and don’t notice. We’re sitting on the porch, inhaling the breeze from the trees, and we are American optimists.

We grew up with cheapo gasoline and our children won’t and anything you hear about rolling back prices at the pump is just election-year blather. Supply is not rising to meet demand, what with China and India booming, and that drives the price up: You learned about this in the seventh grade. So our kids will have to deal with new realities, which they can manage better than we can, and when gas goes to $7 and $8 and $10 a gallon, they’ll roll with it.

A fellow father on the porch says he’s taking his girls to Guatemala in July on a church mission though it isn’t the Guatemalans he wants to minister to — he wants his children to spend a week in a village whose inhabitants live on a fraction of what we do and aren’t messing around with Facebook and YouTube so much because they have gardens to tend and chickens to butcher. He simply wants his girls to see this and know how privileged we Americans are. We got cheap bananas and coffee out of Guatemala by supporting a vicious regime that suppressed dissent, and for Chiquita Banana, brave people were tortured and shot, which is something that Adams and Jefferson didn’t foresee, and yet a band of Lutherans is welcome to visit a rural village and sleep on mats for a week and eat what the locals eat. What a beautiful world!

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In the sweetness of July, the dumb cover of The New Yorker showing Barack in Muslim garb doesn’t matter, nor does Mr. McCain’s sweet moment when he was asked if it is fair that insurance will pay for Viagra and not for birth control pills and he stammered like a schoolboy. Politicians have powerful response reflexes that pick up on a key word in the question and play back a practiced response, but Mr. McCain blushed and winced, a lovely vulnerable moment that in the languors of July went unappreciated.

On a lovely summer morning you read about the secretary of the treasury’s plan to rescue Fannie and Freddie to the tune of $300 billion in federal loans. A classic Republican story — lax regulation, lavish salaries to executives, financial bungling, and rescue by the taxpayers. (Note to myself: If McCain is elected, buy gold ingots and install bars on the windows.) A whiner might wonder where was the Current Occupant? Does the gentleman still come to the office on a regular basis? Does anybody tell him what’s going on or is he still looking at picture books? Don’t matter. It’s July.

Same with the growling and grumbling on the left about Barack tacking to the center, adjusting positions, giving tough-love speeches to African-American audiences — what some people decry as cynical politics, some of us welcome as a sign of seriousness. Barack making overtures to evangelicals? It’s about time! Barack expressing his support of the Second Amendment? Bravo. I want to see my man excited by the prospect of victory and not shrink from it as so many Democrats do. They’ve read too many books about heroic dissenters and it makes them nervous about being in too big a crowd.

The huge crowds that Barack draws are stunned by the fact that someone like him, with that interesting name, is — hang on now — a mainstream candidate for president of the United States and that he is, on close examination, One of Us. An earnest striver with a sense of humor. He is so much more One of Us than the privileged ne’er-do-well son in the White House or poor Rush Limbaugh living alone with his cat in his Palm Beach compound with the cherubs on the ceiling just like at Versailles and the life-size oil portrait of himself. Imagine having to look at that as you come down to breakfast.

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