Thursday, February 25, 2010

Off Key

The National Catholic Educational Association is holding their annual Convention and Expo in the Twin Cities from April 6th to the 8th. And when a national Catholic organization comes to town who would they want to deliver the keynote address but the thrice married, Episcopalian (currently) public radio funny man Garrison Keillor?

It's a curious choice for a number of reasons. While Keillor is best known for being the soft spoken, mild-mannered host of "A Prairie Home Companion" when it comes to politics he's one of the more divisive, inflammatory, and mean-spirited voices out there. Examples of Keillor's demagogic political rhetoric abound. There's this classic screed against Republicans:

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong's moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt's evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb and dangerous.

I for one am still waiting for Keillor to apologize to the hirsute marsh improvers he so recklessly defamed.

Then there's Keillor's call to literally pull the plug on the GOP:

...if Republicans should be cut out of the health-care system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer. Thirty-two percent of the population identifies with the GOP, and if we cut off health care to them, we could probably pay off the deficit in short order.

Nothing like bringing in a keynote speaker who's quite open about the fact that he despises half the country (especially those darn tea baggers). In the same piece where he fondly dreamed of death panelling the GOP, Keillor also offered us this:

The so-called cultural wars over abortion and prayer in the schools and pornography and gays, most of it instigated by shrieking ninnies and pompous blowhards, did nothing about anything, except elect dullards to office who brought a certain nihilistic approach to governance.

Last time I checked the Catholic Church had a rather vested interest in these so-called cultural wars. In fact, you could argue that the Church was often the one "instigating" them with its vocal opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Perhaps someone at the NCEA convention could ask Keillor is he considers the Pope a shrieking ninny or a pompous blowhard.

This is another reason why the decision to have Keillor keynote the convention is raising eye brows. His views on abortion and gay marriage--while not as extreme as those of many on the left--don't exactly fit well with those of the Catholic Church. And even if he personally favors private schools for his own kids, you have to wonder about what Keillor really thinks about Catholic education given some of his past comments, especially on vouchers:

"The American public school, how remarkable it will seem someday. With the introduction of school vouchers, you got to send your kids to schools where they learned the TRUTH-- your truth--Our Lady of Sorrows, Foursquare Millennial Gospel, Moon Goddess, Malcolm X, the Open School of Whatever, the Academy of Hairy-Legged Individualism, the School of the Green Striped Tie, you name it, and who could argue with the idea of free choice? --until you stop and think about the old idea of the public school, a place where you went to find out who inhabits this society other than people like you."

-- Garrison Keillor (talking about other people's kids), "The Future of Nostalgia," New York Times Magazine, 29 September 1996

But as a Minnesotan of the Catholic persuasion, what really irks me most about having Keillor keynote a Catholic education convention in the Twin Cities is that no one probably has done more to propagate the illusion that the people of Minnesota are all Lutherans of Scandinavian descent than him. After all, this is a convention about Catholic education. Why not have, you know, someone from Minnesota who's actually Catholic be the keynote speaker?

If you're outraged about this decision (and if you've been paying attention how can you not be?) you can let the NCEA know how you feel by dropping a note to:

Dr. Karen M. Ristau, Ed.D.
President, National Catholic Educational Association
1005 North Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22201

Or you can e-mail Dr. Ristau at

Be courteous and respectful, but be sure to express your view that Keillor is a below average choice for keynote speaker.

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