It was a good Fourth of July where I was -- no Republicans or Democrats, just a crowd of sunburned people sitting on the grass, and a brass band played amid the smell of hot dogs, and Clarence and Ralph, two World War II vets, described their European tour of 1944-45 from Normandy through the Hurtgen Forest, and it was duly noted that the Revolution was not going well in the summer of 1776 when Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Hancock put their names to the Declaration of Independence, an act of treason and great bravado, and then the crowd stood and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and discovered that, in the key of G, it is a fine piece of music and very singable. And people know the words.
It's interesting about the national anthem: First of all, nobody really wants to sing it, and if there's a soloist we won't, but if someone asks us to sing it and gives us a note and a downbeat we jump to our feet and sing and once we're into it, we love it. It is powerful and moving and when we hold the note on "free" and the sopranos wail, it's opera.
This simple less-is-more approach is the genius of conservatism -- get out of their way and the people will provide -- and it holds true in many areas of life, such as education, the arts, broiling hamburgers (a committee around the grill is always going to overcook the food), and not so much in others, such as national defense, bank regulation and healthcare.
In the past two weeks, I've attended two benefit concerts to raise money for musicians to pay their medical bills, and that is just ridiculous. Why should anyone, least of all a valuable contributing member of society, have to pass the hat to pay the doctor? But there I was, watching one of America's few true-blue cowboy singers hoist himself on crutches onto the stage to sing "The Old Chisholm Trail" as we put our twenties in the pot to pay for his pelvis, broken when a horse threw him. A cowboy singer can only afford the $10,000 deductible health plan and that means that he must sell Old Paint or become a charity case.
Meanwhile, a friend visiting London forgets to look to the right while crossing the street and gets whacked by a taxi and is scooped up and taken to the hospital with a broken leg where -- wait for it -- nobody ever asks him for an insurance card, they just go about doing what needs to be done. A civilized people, whatever you may think of the beer, that they treat a fallen American the same as if he were one of them.
Health insurance is the business that Congress is taking up this summer with the help of hundreds of high-paid lobbyists, many of them former congressmen or congressional staffers, all of them arguing for schemes that will be good for the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance companies and not necessarily good for the cowboy or the careless pedestrian. Reports the size of Sears catalogs will be circulated, and smart men and women smelling of citrus and sandalwood will argue persuasively and extensively for all points of view.
Our representatives will face pages and pages of statistics, acres of numerals, and even as they wander in the great fog of data and expertise, they will be at least as confused as the rest of us. Somehow out of this dance hall and sausage mill will come legislation that must stand the light of day, a miracle if it should happen, and then we shall see if the common good was served or if we have been sold down the river into the hands of cheats and scoundrels.
I shall not be spending my summer in Washington being lectured to on healthcare issues by self-important people. I plan to write a novel instead, a genre of literature that is deeply and sincerely authoritarian. I get to decide who is in it, and I plan to include a blizzard and some ghosts and a goose dinner. I work at home, whenever I feel like it, and then once a week I write a column in which I may, if I wish, castigate public servants for their lack of heroism. I tell you, this is a great country for the indolent and the callow.
(Garrison Keillor is the author of "77 Love Sonnets," published by Common Good Books.)
(c) 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.