It’s time for Democrats to get back to work

Published 10:43 am Saturday, February 13, 2010

It is a large moment for Democrats, learning to stick with a good man through a rough period when the people who crave disillusionment have become disillusioned. It’s like a winter vacation in the Caribbean when it rains buckets and you eat some bad shellfish and a shrieky teenager says you’ve ruined her life forever. You smile, take a shower and organize a volleyball game. You have to work at it. It’s work.

We the people are fond of hustlers and slick operators and the reverend with the diamond-studded Rolex and Sarah Palin slipping into Nashville and collecting a hundred grand for a 40-minute speech of no distinction whatsoever (“I’m so proud to be an American. Happy birthday, Ronald Reagan.”) to a roomful of happy tea partiers. You didn’t have to pore over it line by line to know that no work went into it: It was butterscotch pudding made from a box, add hot water and stir.

History does not record that Samuel Adams charged a fee for addressing the rally at the Old South Meeting House on Nov. 29, 1773, at which he rallied the Sons of Liberty to resist the British, leading to the Boston Tea Party. But that was then and this is now.

Email newsletter signup

Miss Sarah knows where the cameras are, and she has pizzazz, and the tea partiers whooped and yelled for her standard Republican stump speech, which is like paying $750 for a hotel room and finding no clean towels and a lot of dead cockroaches and then circling Excellent Excellent Excellent on the customer questionnaire.

Well, this is the country we live in. Hard work is not held in such high esteem as it once was. Look at Warren Beatty. A recent biography claims that he slept with 12,755 women, which cannot possibly be true, but even if it were half that number, what a labor of love: the delicate work of seduction, the pats on the arm, the flattery, the exquisite timing of the kisses, then the zippers, the bra clasps, the stockings, and then the performance itself — which, if you are Warren Beatty, will be judged by a higher standard than if you are Ralph Nader or Archbishop Tutu — and then the obligatory post-coital glow in which you help the woman believe that this time, this time, was of all your many couplings the one that really zinged your strings and rang your chimes, and then coaxing the babe from your bed and into her clothes and into a cab, so you can freshen up in time for your 11:30 assignation.

Mr. Beatty, through his lawyer, says the number is not accurate. But the number 12,755 is out there, emblazoned in our memories. And so Mr. Beatty gets credit for work he did not do. A lazy Casanova who lets another man write his story and inflate the workload, and then, by denying the story through a lawyer, publicizes it further.

I know something about fiction, and I believe Mr. Beatty slept with 15 women, maybe 18, 25 tops, and considered himself lucky. But I admire him for creating this enormous legend.

And so did J.D. Salinger, may he rest in peace. No American author ever held onto such fame for so long for having done so little work. The junior members of the firm, John Updike and Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, were busy, busy, busy, year after year after year, while Mr. Salinger lounged in Cornish, famous for not wanting to be famous, and sales of his slender “Catcher in the Rye” kept chunking along, his slender “Nine Stories” and “Franny and Zooey” still adored by the faithful. What a perfect dodge for a guy who is tired of working so hard! You leave town in a huff and become a celebrity recluse and you get to spend 50 years enjoying leisurely breakfasts and maintaining your bird feeders while collecting buckets of royalties. And when you die, it’s huge.

I still believe in hard work. It’s more fun and it’s a better way of life. I don’t have much patience for Democrats who grab hold of defeat and find vindication there. They long to be a heroic voice in the wilderness, crying out against selfishness and cruelty and going nobly down to defeat, and for their obituaries to say they were visionaries and ahead of their time. I’d rather they were in their time and did the hard work.

Garrison Keillor is the author of “77 Love Sonnets,” published by Common Good Books.