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Garrison Keillor: We were wrong and we should say so

March 21. 2018 7:43PM

NOW THAT THE 17th is behind us, the pipes have stopped calling from glen to glen, Danny is gone until next March when the valley is white with snow, I look at my calendar and don’t see much to get excited about. Easter is two weeks away and what with church membership in decline, the day is more about jellybeans and less about the Resurrection of Our Lord. And ladies don’t wear big hats as they used to do. Memorial Day is just a long weekend and if anyone treks to a military cemetery to hear a speech honoring the sacrifices of good men, they will find themselves in a very small crowd, and that is depressing. The Glorious Fourth is a fine old tradition wherever people make the effort to maintain it, but the fireworks part is easier than the parade and the declamatory part is almost extinct. Labor Day is a big zero. Halloween used to be enjoyable but a lot of the fun has gone out of spookiness now with a demented person in the White House.

I wish we had another holiday in the fall, what with Columbus Day having fallen into disfavor due to his enthusiasm for enslaving other people and I think it should be Oct. 14, two days later, which is Dwight D. Eisenhower’s birthday.

Eisenhower Day will be a day on which smart people can admit to their dumb mistakes. Ike was a great man about whom most intellectuals of his day were dead wrong, as two new biographies of him have set out to show. And I will take my place in a line of Democrats who can say so. I was only 10 in 1952 when he was elected President but I well remember how cool it was to look down on him. That was when I discovered the meaning of “cool” — it meant unEisenhowerlike.

A whole class of very hip people mistook the pretensions of Adlai Stevenson for intellectual acuity and the plain talk of Ike for mediocrity. Comedians, poets, old lefties: they were wrong. I was one of them. My parents liked Ike so I was madly for Adlai. Also, one realizes how far the Republican Party has fallen, from the general who planned D-Day and managed the Allies to victory in Europe to the current braggart and buffoon, but that’s a lesson for another time.

It’s good to live long enough to look back and see where you went wrong, not that it’ll improve your record in the future, but at least you’ll know enough to tone down the righteousness. People I know got very intense about reforming public education years ago and the words “open” and “alternative” were magical charms and now we begin to appreciate some of the benefits of the old repressive system. I had a teacher who imposed harsh penalties for grammatical mistakes and though her and me didn’t always get along so good, I did learn from her.

I’ve been wrong often enough that I hesitate to join those who want to take Columbus’s statue down in Columbus Circle in New York, as a city commission has recommended. Also the statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History on the grounds that, late in his career, after creating national parks, reforming Civil Service, signing the Pure Food and Drug Act, conserving wilderness, busting monopolies, he embraced ideas about eugenics that were embraced by German fascists after Roosevelt’s time.

If you remove Columbus, then what shall we do with Columbia University? Rename it Upper West Side University? And Columbus, Ohio, and the Columbia Broadcasting System?

Columbus’s statue is on a column so high it’s hard to recognize it as Columbus, but if it’s a problem, you could simply behead him and put Eisenhower’s head on him. Or Roosevelt.

In Minnesota, we are changing the name of Lake Calhoun, named for the slaver John C. Calhoun, to Bde Maka Ska, or “White Earth” in the Dakota language. Our way of correcting the record 150 years late. If, however, you live next to the lake and are calling 911 to say your house is on fire, you might want to use the old racist name, at least for the next 50 years or so until all the old firemen have retired.

Garrison Keillor lives in Minnesota.

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