I see by the papers that the Republicans want to make an issue of Nancy Pelosi in the congressional races this fall: Would you want a San Francisco woman to be speaker of the House? Will the podium be repainted in lavender stripes with a disco ball overhead? Will she be borne into the chamber by male dancers with glistening torsos and wearing pink tutus?
After all, in the unique worldview of old elephants, San Francisco is a code word for g-a-y, and after assembling a record of government lies, incompetence and disaster, the party in power hopes that the fear of g-a-y-s will pull it through in November.
Running against Nancy Pelosi, a woman who comes from a district where there are known gay persons, is a nice trick, but it does draw attention to the large shambling galoot who is speaker now, Tom DeLay's enabler for years, a man who, judging by his public mutterances, is about as smart as most high school wrestling coaches.
For the past year, Dennis Hastert has been two heartbeats from the presidency. He is a man who seems content just to have a car and driver and three square meals a day. He has no apparent vision beyond the urge to hang onto power. He has succeeded in turning Congress into a branch of the executive branch. If Mr. Hastert becomes the poster boy for the Republican Party, this does not speak well for them as the Party of Ideas.
People who want to take a swing at San Francisco should think twice. Yes, the Irish coffee at Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced, and the bus tour of Haight-Ashbury is disappointing (where are the hippies?), but the Bay Area is the cradle of the computer and software industry, which continues to create jobs for our children. The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous. Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling.
I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.
Meanwhile, the Current Occupant goes on impersonating a president. Somewhere in the quiet leafy recesses of the Bush family, somebody is thinking, ''Wrong son. Should've tried the smart one.'' This one's eyes don't quite focus. Five years in office and he doesn't have a grip on it yet. You stand him up next to Tony Blair at a press conference and the comparison is not kind to Our Guy. Historians are starting to place him at or near the bottom of the list.
And one of the basic assumptions of American culture is falling apart: the competence of Republicans.
You might not have always liked Republicans, but you could count on them to manage the bank. They might be lousy tippers, act snooty, talk through their noses, wear spats and splash mud on you as they race their Pierce-Arrows through the village, but you knew they could do the math. To see them produce a ninny and then follow him loyally into the swamp for five years is disconcerting, like seeing the Rolling Stones take up lite jazz.
So here we are at an uneasy point in our history, mired in a costly war and getting nowhere, a supine Congress granting absolute power to a president who seems to get smaller and dimmer, and the best the Republicans can offer is San Franciscophobia? This is beyond pitiful. This is violently stupid.
It is painful to look at your father and realize the old man should not be allowed to manage his own money anymore. This is the discovery the country has made about the party in power. They are inept. The checkbook needs to be taken away. They will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names, but you have to do what you have to do.
Garrison Keillor's ''A Prairie Home Companion'' can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.