I was hiking atop a limestone bluff above the Mississippi near Lake Pepin the other day, enjoying a golden late October afternoon and a spectacular view of bluffs, woods and water, when an American bald eagle flew past. It wasn't above me, in the sky. It was 100 feet below where I stood, above the treetops but far beneath my feet.
The world feels topsy-turvy this autumn.
In traditional American Indian culture, it is a good omen when an eagle flies above you in the sky, but I'm not sure what to think when the hiker gets to see an eagle flying below him. I watched the eagle swoop into the trees, dodging power lines and telephone poles until it disappeared around the edge of another bluff. The way things are going in this country these days, I was grateful for small favors:
At east the eagle didn't crash into a high-tension line and incinerate itself.
Self-immolation is in style this fall.
Take Juan Williams. Please. The ex-pontificator for National Public Radio got his Muslim-bashing butt handed to him by NPR when he went on Fox to help out the Duke of Bash, Bill O'Reilly, by admitting that he, too, gets nervous when he sees people in "Muslim garb" getting on his plane. I suppose he also squirms when he sees gays in his locker room, but maybe his Muslim radar is keener than his gay-dar.
There was a time when national commentators felt an obligation to keep their own little personal peccadilloes on the down low in the belief that they were unworthy of sharing. Personally, I get nervous when I see people in bankers' garb getting on board another bailout. But there was Williams, blithely admitting that he fears Muslims in a way that demonstrated he was unqualified to be a public analyst of American life but was a perfect fit for Fox.
Presto, change-o! Within a day, Williams had a nearly $2 million deal to work for Fox, which goes to prove that it isn't your imagination: That "news" network really wants to be recognized as the anti-Muslim network (although it is partly owned by a Saudi prince whose name it mentions only when he turns up among the funders of the incorrectly named "Ground Zero mosque"). If there were any decent people at Fox, they'd be leaving now.
Amazingly, Fox is behaving as if Fox is the aggrieved party: The talking heads at Fox spent days shaking their noggins at the shame of it all, interviewing each other about the disgrace of a public radio network firing someone for validating the prejudices of Bill O'Reilly. The world is upside down, and Big Hairs like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin -- both employees of Fox -- are using an incident cooked up by Fox to demand...an end to funding for public radio.
A lot of NPR listeners will complain that public broadcasting already has been browbeaten into timid irrelevance on the most heated topics of the times, but Fox is in the henhouse, and it won't be satisfied until every other voice is silent.
There are plenty of other immolations worth mentioning: The anti-gay and pro-porn ramblings of New York GOP candidate for governor, Carl Paladino; the First Amendment dissembling of Christine O'Donnell, whose Tea Party campaign for the Senate in Delaware was self-torpedoed by her denial that the separation of church and state has been established in law; and on and on. These foot-in-mouth accidents deliver a double-whammy: Indicating that the candidate is unprepared for office but believes the voters don't care: Just show 'em you're ticked and you'll end up picked.
The good news is that our long national nightmare -- the Minnesota one, too -- is almost over: Election Day is just nine days away. Hang on; we may get through this.
To be fair, the governor's race has almost been quaint in its gentility. Except for the heavy hands of corporate interests who have shown brass knuckles and revealed contempt for the goodwill of consumers, the Minnesota election has been an old-fashioned tea party, not the new one: white gloves, China teacups and shortbread. Tom Emmer, Mark Dayton, Tom Horner: Pass the sugar, would you, Dearie?
If it weren't for the shameless Vikings cheerleading of Tom Horner, endorsed by Arne Carlson, Al Quie, Mike Ciresi and many other Grumpy Old Men of Minnesota, the election would have put us all to sleep. Horner is the Independence Party candidate who has replaced Jesse Ventura's feather boas with purple face paint, Randy Moss jerseys and pom-poms, showing he can sell his dignity as easily as Jesse.
Let's hope the civility continues. Disaster may lie ahead. After Nov. 2, someone is going to have to put things together, against fierce odds. The eagles are flying low.
Nick Coleman is at email@example.com.