Reflections on Keillor’s Christmas curse

The cuckoo clock struck thirteen in Garrison Keillor’s Christmas column last week. When the cuckoo emerged at the appointed hour, he chirped:

[A]ll those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.
Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you’re not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don’t mess with the Messiah.

I took issue with Keillor’s column this past Saturday in “Keillor’s Christmas curse.” I thought that Keillor’s animus might have been directed more appropriately at the American public that has turned the offending Christmas songs (in Keillor’s view) by Jewish composers into hits by buying them rather than at the religious or ethnic identity of their composers. At its root, it seemed to me, Keillor’s animus was nondenominational in spirit. Keillor doesn’t like his fellow Americans very much, whether they are Jewish or Christian.
I was surprised by Keillor’s display of the animus present in this passage, but I was most surprised that the editors of the Baltimore Sun, where the column originally appeared, had concluded that the column constituted public discourse fit for their editorial pages. I thought that the taboo attached to the “Jews need not apply” sentiment might have given the editors a sober second thought. Has the taboo once associated with such public displays waned to the vanishing point?
When Keillor’s column appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday, I was even more surprised. The opinion editor of the Star Tribune editorial page is Doug (D.J.) Tice, a man whom I hold in the highest regard both personally and professionally. I wrote Doug to ask him about the Star Tribune’s publication of Keillor’s column. I wondered whether he had any qualms about publishing the column, with its call for Jewish songwriters to quit ruining Keillor’s Christmas. He responded in a message that he authorized me to use as I saw fit:

We discussed the column and whether it crossed the line, aware that it had already stirred controversy. We decided it was not anti-Semitic, not least because Keillor spread his nastiness so widely, the way many Christians (and others) try to spread good will at this time of year. He is a regular presence on our Sunday page, with a substantial following, and our bar is very high for spiking a regular column.
In no case, however, does our publishing a column on the Opinion Exchange [the Star Tribune's opinion section] imply any endorsement of its message. We publish pieces that we think are provocative and/or illuminating. Sometimes what is illuminated is not exactly what the writer intended, and the reaction to Keillor’s piece suggests this may be one of those times. Wouldn’t you agree that readers with eyes to see may have learned something from this piece?
For my part, Keillor is welcome to his narrow, misanthropic Christmas. I hope the real spirit of the season reaches him someday.
Best to you and yours.
Doug (D.J.) Tice

I wrote back that I thought Keillor had targeted his wrath more narrowly, on some Cambridge Unitarians and on, well, Jews. If someone said to me in my presence what Keillor had said in print, I would let him know it’s not okay with me. I was surprised and disappointed that it was okay with the Star Tribune. I don’t know that I’m right or Doug wrong; the fact that Doug disagrees with me makes me think I may well be wrong. I thought, in any event, that Power Line readers might be interested in the issue.
JOHN adds: As a Christian, I object to and deeply resent any suggestion that it is somehow inappropriate for our Jewish friends to join in the secular side of our nation’s most popular holiday. On the contrary, the joyful contributions that Keillor condemns strike me as neighborly and as signs of good will that could hardly be more consistent with the spirit of the season, much as when my Jewish friends wish me a merry Christmas. Keillor’s comments were stupidly divisive; if they were meant in jest, they weren’t funny. And, with all due respect, I consider them unChristian.

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