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A Decent, Peculiar Place To Live

by Molly Ivins

Closer to Garrison Keillor's America than most of the media recognize.
Happy birthday, U.S.A.! Our national natal day rolls around again, giving us the opportunity to dwell once more on the charms and glories of our great -- although slightly peculiar -- country.

We were all along on the roller-coaster ride during the 36-day political slugfest in Florida, providing the rest of the world with a splendid example of democracy in action. Bif! Bam! Pow!

Special thanks to the cable television show that put on two of our least helpful citizens, the Rev. Jerry Falwell with the Rev. Al Sharpton, to shed light on that situation. Now we have a new president and almost half of us voted for him. So far he hasn't barfed on a single foreign leader, for which we are profoundly grateful.

Our Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill observed helpfully, "If you set aside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the safety record of the nuclear industry is really very good."

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince is now known as Prince again.

We have a new television reality program about people getting into a pit with rats, which has given profound satisfaction to our public scolds. This further evidence that we are on the high road to moral rot and intellectual turpitude gives great satisfaction to those who are fond of denouncing Americans as a bunch of hopeless louts.

Meantime, the country is still full of people who stop by the side of the road to help other people change their flats, send canned goods to Houston after a flood, bake casseroles when the neighbor dies, kiss their spouses and volunteer at the Humane Society, and who sometimes sing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" to themselves on the way to work.

Were we to accept the portrait of ourselves found in the media, we would conclude the nation is rife with weird cults, serial killers, vicious dogs and people who believe in flying saucers. OK, OK, so we have a lot of people who believe in flying saucers. We continue our hilarious national habit of studying ourselves to find out how stupid we are: 12.7 percent in this year's poll believes Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

The majority of Americans do not spend their time reading pornography or shooting one another. Instead, they belong to ballroom dancing, square dancing, clog dancing and tango groups. They sing barbershop quartet harmony, grand opera, gospel, country, folk, jazz, swing, norteno and medieval chants.

We compete in chili cook-offs, bird-watching, bridge, the Spam-o-rama, polo, the Pillsbury bake-off, rattlesnake round-ups, spelling bees, hog-calling, the Miss Turpentine Spirits beauty pageant, regattas, jalapeno-eating contests, the Prairie Chicken Drop and the Oscars.

We are not uniformly full to the brim of nice folks -- all of us have our human share of pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. This is not Garrison Keillor's America, which is itself no Eden. But I think we're closer to Keillor, with an even more wry twist, than most of the media recognize.

Our democracy is, as ever, in a parlous state. Our politics are corrupted by legalized bribery, and the gap between the rich and everybody else keeps getting worse. FDR once said: "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power."

Our teen-agers tattoo their bodies, wear rings through their noses, listen to heavy metal, attend raves, dye their hair blue and otherwise offer ample reason for despair. Although some of then are in band or Latin Club. They all get zits and hormones, and if you can't empathize with that, you may have early-onset Alzheimer's. Way to go, kids. You were born to drive your parents nuts.

Can you imagine how confused our new immigrants are?

Story from Texas: A few weeks ago, our old friend Latane Lambert -- longtime freedom-fighter, good citizen and noble human, died at an advanced age. The Daily Disappointment decided to do a feature obit on her and asked her sons, "Who can we interview, who was with her in the old days?"

The sons recommended Ruth Ellinger, who was also an old CIO organizer. They sent some bubble-headed young thing out to interview Ruth, who is not particularly poetic or philosophical -- she's one of those people who just concentrates on fixing things. Ruthie, without drama, described to the bubble-head what it was like to be a union organizer in the old days, the civil-rights movement, about the farmworkers struggle and many others.

The young woman finally piped up: "Gosh, it sounds like y'all just spent your whole lives helpin' other people. Why?"

Said Ruth without hesitation, "Common decency."

That's why I love America.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor July 3, 2001 (

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