How to pass healthcare reform

The way to fight Republicans is to make them think you like them. It'll scare them into passing the thing

Published November 11, 2009 12:11AM (EST)

There are some things we will never understand. Death, for one. I overheard a woman in the drugstore say, "He went into the hospital yesterday and he was eating his supper and then he fell asleep and then he died. I don't get it." She didn't seem grief-stricken, just uncomprehending. (Why did it have to happen now?) The paranoia that has seized the Republican Party is beyond my understanding. So is the physics of cord entanglement: how two power cords set separately in a briefcase become so complexly intertwined in only a few hours. And why do you find the rudest people in first class? Passengers in steerage accept their misery with stoical grace, while the privileged sit in luxury in a cold rage.

And then there is Washington. I maintain that Congress would do better work if it moved to Buffalo, N.Y., and the Honorables had to experience blizzards and snow shoveling and cold weather, which stimulate intelligence -- SAT scores rise as you approach the Canadian border. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution says that Congress could not convene in Buffalo.

The Founding Fathers intended the Senate to be a fount of wisdom flowing, but when you consider Saxby Chambliss and Jim Bunning, John Ensign, Jim DeMint, James Inhofe, who look as if they've been banged on the head too many times, and the moon-faced Mitch McConnell, your faith in democracy is challenged severely. Any legislative body in which 41 senators from rural states that together represent 10 percent of the population can filibuster you to death is going to be flat-footed, on the verge of paralysis, no matter what. Any time 10 percent of the people can stop 90 percent, it's like driving a bus with a brake pedal for each passenger. That's why Congress has a public approval rating of 25 percent.

Healthcare is much too complicated for Congress. The whole issue should've been handed over to a blue-ribbon commission of living, breathing economists -- let them draw up a plan and defend it and stand up to the ranters and rug-chewers -- and let Congress do what it does best, which is to uphold virtue and decency and to denounce narrow self-interest and partisanship, and then go to lunch.

The Republican bulls remind me of an old coot who used to sit in my row in the Lutheran church, a guy who favored plaid dress shirts and a string tie with a turquoise clasp and who had an elaborate comb-over, a real piece of hair architecture. He muttered to himself through the sermon and never put more than $1 in the collection plate. I guessed that he attended for the sake of his wife, a plump lady who sat between him and me. What he truly dreaded every Sunday morning was the exchange of peace. To shake hands with people nearby and say "The peace of the Lord" did not come naturally to him.

I didn't like it either. I was young and idealistic and thought those Lutherans had more than enough peace, what they needed was some slapping around, not hand shaking. But I was amused by how wary the guy got when the peace was exchanged and ladies went gallivanting around the sanctuary, hugging, having meaningful moments. He stood facing straight forward and wished everyone would keep their peace to themselves. I always leaned over to shake hands with his missus, and he turned away, avoiding eye contact.

One morning, during the exchange, the lady in front of me, turning to embrace me, lost her corsage. It fell at my feet and I looked down for it and accidentally kicked it and then went to retrieve it and stepped past the plump lady, and the old coot turned, horror-stricken, to see me coming. He tried to retreat but was blocked by other worshippers. My hair was a little long at the time and maybe he expected me to plant a major peace on him -- and then he saw me bend down and pick up the flower. He looked disgusted. It was what they call a transforming moment. I had always looked down on the guy and here he was, upset, because he thought I was going to love him up. He stuck out his hand to fend me off and I shook it.

The way to pass healthcare is for the president to praise Republicans for their courage and foresight and compassion until he scares them to death and they let the thing pass. The way to fight these guys is to make them think you might like them.

(Garrison Keillor is the author of "77 Love Sonnets," published by Common Good Books.)

© 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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Healthcare Reform