The Old Scout

Garrison Keillor's weekly newspaper column.

Quality Health Care for All ... Even Republicans

October 6, 2009

OK, it was wrong of me to say last week that we should deny health care to Republicans except for aspirin and hand sanitizer, and thank you to the many readers who kindly took me to task. It was so wrong. And I withdraw the idea that death panels should circulate through red states searching for the obese and slow afoot, the wheezy and limpy, spray-painting orange stripes on their ankles, marking them for future harvest. That was very, very bad.

Republicans have the same right to quality health care as anyone else, and you can quote me on that. Even people who are crazed stark raving berserk by the thought of a president with three vowels in his last name deserve to be treated with kindness and dignity, and shot with tranquilizer darts by game wardens and wrapped in quilts and taken to refuge.

What has come along to change my mind? Fall, magnificent fall, in all its grandeur, when the maples are blazing with glory, like young romantic poets dying as they are writing their best stuff. John Keats died at 25, Shelley at 29. Stephen Crane was 28. Franz Schubert was 31, and Mozart was just a young married guy with a couple of little boys, neither of whom did much in their lives. One of them had musical talent but was crushed by the burden of his father's fame. (Great men probably shouldn't have children, so keep that in mind if you are young and wildly brilliant: Use a condom.)

The maple trees stand in the yards of we stolid Midwesterners and they cry out for unbridled passion and heartbreaking beauty and fabulous golden yellows and blazing reds, and they tell us to quit our jobs and fly away in pursuit of hopeless romance and a life of dance and poetry and spending your life creating masterpieces that the world will ignore, and of course we don't listen to the bad advice of trees, we go right ahead fixing our children's lunches and arranging little enriching experiences for them and asking them what they want to be for Halloween, and then the rain falls and the wind blows and romanticism is gone, a heap of rotting leaves on the ground. Sic transit gloria mundi, pal.

That is what fall means in St. Paul, Minnesota. It's maple trees telling us about mortality and that life is short and can't be put on Pause and each of us is as fragile and forgettable as a maple tree. We go racing past them fighting our petty battles for power and parking spaces, and then we die (arghh) and people glance at the obit and if you're young, like Keats and Shelley, they feel a little twinge, and if you aren't they don't, and then they go back to telling their kids about the importance of correct spelling and grammar, which every good parent should do.

In the great contest of autumn — Art & Adventure vs. Parenthood, Hitting the Road In Search Of The True You vs. Attending Parent-Teacher Conferences & Hearing About How We Need To Work On Sharing — Republicans vote Neither. They're mostly about maximizing profit in the short run. They are the folks who buy a healthy company and then sink it under an enormous debt load that goes to pay them a vast profit even though the company is sinking, and the creditors get shafted.

They are the ones who are dead-set against government regulation and do not mind manufacturing hamburger patties contaminated by E. coli, and if someone becomes terribly ill from eating one — a young woman in Minnesota almost died from a Cargill hamburger and will likely never walk again — nonetheless Republicans remain staunchly opposed to G-men snooping around the slaughterhouse, and so I should never eat another Big Mac or Whopper or any other ground meat other than that ground from whole sirloin by a butcher as I watch. Never.

We are back to the 19th century so far as meat is concerned. This has been accomplished by those incredibly rude men who occupy first class on the airplane and elbow themselves ahead of elderly women in line as they yammer into dangly cell phones. They have nothing to do with art and even less to do with bringing up children. They are a danger to society and an embarrassment to their children. Nonetheless, if one of them falls down with a heart attack, he should be cared for, same as anyone else.

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

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