Our town was recently graced by a visit and lecture from one of the nation’s foremost philosophers. Captain Kangaroo came to this outpost on the Tundra, only a hundred miles or so southeast of Lake Wobegon, to speak at the Town Hall Forum series put on by the local ecclesiastical emporium. We knew in advance that Big Thoughts were in the offing.

Appearing as his alter ego. Bob Keeshan, the Captain was disturbed that the successive cohorts of the viewers he had nurtured—his Yupparoos, as he calls them—beginning some 30 years ago, were not turning out as he wished. Exercised about the large numbers of his old friends of the airwaves who are poor or in jail, he called for a renewed effort to make the world a better place, so that the Yupparoos might come to a better end.

Now, that may sound simplistic to some readers, but simplism died with Mr. Keeshan’s earlier incarnation as Clarabelle the Clown on the Howdy Doody show. Keeshan now quotes approvingly the famous statement of the Bard of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken (whom nobody ever called simplistic): “For every complex question, there is a simple answer. And it’s wrong.”

This may seem to be just another shot taken by Mencken at the booboisie, and bought naively by the Captain. But Captain Kangaroo wishes us to consider seriously the plight of the generations he has instructed. “Many of the people in prison today,” he observes, “are children we started nurturing in the 1960’s. Where did we go wrong?” He doesn’t seem to have answered that question yet. But for those who want solutions to the problems the Captain has identified, he gives them straight from the shoulder: We have to put more money into day care; we have to improve television; and we have to teach a philosophy of stewardship. There you have it. Except for this little homily: “Kindness is the lubricant that makes it possible for us to share our world together.” All of which brings to mind Goethe’s observation that “things are simpler than they seem, and more difficult than can be imagined.”

It may be impertinent for a mere former sergeant to say too much about the Captain’s stirring message, but maybe he won’t mind. The chief advantage of the call to complexity, as Mencken must have known, is the prestidigitation by which it transforms moral categories into material ones. Why are people in jail? Only the simplistic think it has something to do with an ethical issue, when it’s clearly a social one. Something in the physical environment causes people to behave in antisocial ways, and the only way to do something about it is to change the society. The Captain’s young Yupparoo friends who are in jail now would not have to endure such suffering if we had had better day care for them back then. (Let’s not say anything about having had better television).

The Captain, having been forced to walk the plank by the mercenary pirates of commercial television, is now campaigning for a new slot on public television. There is an inner consistency here. “You can accuse me of being a bleeding heart,” the local newspaper quotes Keeshan as saying, “but . . . we should be raising our children to be good taxpayers.” It’s that simple.