Garrison Keillor: Out with the old, in with the young

Out with the old, in with the young

The Column: 08.25.23

I am delighted by the court ruling in Montana that the state, by encouraging the use of fossil fuels, violated the constitutional right of young people to “a clean and healthful environment,” something no court has ever proclaimed before.

“Clean and healthful environment” is in the Montana state constitution. The legislature had forbidden state agencies to consider climate change when considering fossil fuel projects, and this decision would change that, but the state will appeal and likely the decision will be tossed away like used tissue, but still it’s an interesting idea: that we have legal obligations to our kids beyond feeding and clothing them and not putting them to work in shoe factories before they’re 12.

Nobody suggested back in the Fifties that we kids had a constitutional right to a “natural and healthful attitude toward sex” nor did I consider asking a court to reverse the deep sense of shame instilled in me, which has messed up my life to the extent that I dare not see a therapist for fear I’d discover things nobody should ever know about himself.

I was a troubled adolescent with bad hair and no idea how to extend my arm around a girl. It seemed as difficult as a one-armed chin-up. A friend and I went to a Pete Seeger concert and he invited a couple of girls and soon there were five of us and a girl sat on my lap in the backseat, a ballet dancer with muscular buttocks. She loved classical music so I got a job at a classical radio station but she dumped me for a botanist. It was just that simple. I had no dream of being a broadcaster, I was only out to impress the girl with the buttocks. Instead of romance I got a career. Romance came along when I was 50. Life isn’t supposed to be like that. Where is the justice?

My parents have left the planet so I can’t sue them and my teachers are gone too so I can’t argue that they violated my constitutional right to a “useful and healthful education,” much as I might wish to. Algebra was a complete waste of time, the multiplication of fractions is a skill I’ve not used for 10 seconds in the past 70 years, same with calculus and chemistry, and the history they taught was half fraudulent fables, and my time trying to translate Latin would’ve been better spent in learning basic plumbing: veni, vidi, whooshi, I came, I saw, I unclogged.

I’m all in favor of the kids in Montana and believe that “clean and healthful environment” should include plain ordinary honesty in politics, a sound education in English prose style, free mental health services, nonpunitive parenting, and an atmosphere of lighthearted liberty, but I don’t see this as a likely outcome, not in a state of make-believe cowboys.

This new legal principle of the fundamental right of the young to a promising future needs to be taken up by Congress, not the courts, and Congress is in the greasy grip of geezers, thus Medicare runs the country into bankruptcy lavishing premier care on the shaky and semi-alert while kids in poverty can’t get their cavities filled.

A country that invests so heavily in the sunset and leaves the young to debt and despair is looking in the wrong direction. I have a great-niece who is the most focused and cheerful and ambitious person I know, heading for a career in architecture while raising a family. She’s the future: when energy-efficient houses become the norm, she’ll be designing them. She’s adopted, Chinese, raised by Swedes, so she covers the bases. She’s funny. When I moved out of Minnesota, she and her man came and hauled away a couple roomfuls of furniture for their new house in St. Paul, bought with the help of a public subsidy. She has a little girl who’s learning Chinese, Spanish, and this language right here.

That child and my daughter and my grandson are now the focus of my politics: what’s good for them is right for the country. I admit that I’m leaning toward higher taxation, just because there’s so much treasure in so few soft manicured hands. Rob the bloated and revive the bony.

I’m old and in the way and my ill-education and shame and wasted years are nobody’s problem but mine. The world owes me nothing. I want to see young Democrats make a national name for themselves by going after the plutocracy hammer and tong and not leave the job to Joe. We’ve got a great country, people, let’s be worthy of it.

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