When there's talk of socialism, there oughta be at least one socialist in the conversation. And as it happens, I know one. Badger Bob.
But guess what. The old fart had pulled his camper up to one of those grubby little mountain towns--(I won't tell you which one because none of them care much for being called "grubby")--and staked out a spot because he'd heard they were throwing a banjo festival later on this summer. Bob is nuts about banjos. He loves to pluck on them, loves to listen to them, loves to just sit and look at banjos. He once told me that if he had it all to do over again, he'd move south and scrub Earl Scruggs' childhood outhouse with a toothbrush if that's what it took to get into the Mystic Order of Benevolent Banjo Strummers. Which took me totally by surprise because up until then, I swear to God, I didn't even know there was such a thing as the Mystic Order of Benevolent Banjo Strummers.
Anyway, I drove up to Grubby-burg and found his camper right away. That's the nice thing about towns with less than 10 year-round residents: Even in summer when all the leftover hippies show up for the huckleberries and the hot springs, a brush-painted Mary Kay-pink camper stands out. Trouble is, Bob wasn't in it. I waited a while, biding my time on the vintage apple crate he uses as a front porch, but the sun was setting behind one of those mountain ranges they're always bragging about, and then I thought, "Hey, in a place like this, you never know when a damned bear might show up."
So I wandered down Main Street--which the locals prefer to call "Claude Dallas Boulevard"--and yelled for Bob to come out from wherever he was. "Baaaawwwbbb! Oh Baawwwbbb! Come out, Bob. I need to talk to yeeeew." I walked from one end of the town to the other--it took two minutes--and started back the other way when he sticks his head over a tall fence.
"For Christ's sake, Cope. Quit hollering. You're gonna have every moose in the county wandering in thinking it's time to mate."
"Bob! We gotta talk. It's important. I've decided to write something about socialized medicine, and you're the only socialist I know."
Other voices from behind the fence sounded pretty upset. "Badge, what's he mean ... socialist? I thought you said you was a good ol' libertarian boy like the rest of us."
Bob looked down, back over his shoulder. I found out later he was standing on a derelict Volkswagen. "I am a libertarian, dammit. And, Hoot, I'm a better libertarian than you are any damn day, you with your phony-ass disability claim. But I'm a socialist, too. Got a problem with that? Huh, Hoot?"
"No siree, Badge. You wanna be a gull-durn socialist, that's your gull-durn business. That's the good ol' libertarian way. Anybody can be anything they wanna be until the Constitution says they can't. An' as near as I can remember, the Constitution ain't got beans to say about whether a libertarian can be a gull-durn socialist, too."
"Thank you very gull-durn much for your approval, Hoot. Now, Cope, get in here and quit yelling, you idiot. And bring a pitcher with you."
I went through the bar attached to the fence--the "Come Squat Inn"--and ordered a pitcher of Oly to take out back. They were throwing horseshoes, Bob and Hoot and four other mountain men, plus a mountain woman or two. To be honest, in the gathering dusk, I had trouble telling the mountain men from the mountain women. Everyone held their glasses out and I poured. Then I had to go back for another pitcher because there wasn't any left for me.
"So Cope, where do you get off chasing me up here? I come to places like this to get away from people like you."
"I know, Bob. But I had to let Red go, so I don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of anymore. And this health-care situation? ... Jeez, it's way too much for me to think about all by myself, see. I mean, we got Obama gearing up to take on the Republicans and the Republicans gearing up to totally gut anything he comes up with, then we got some Democrats who are screaming we need a single-payer system and Blue Dogs who are turning yellow because they don't want to be called socialists, and in the meantime, one-sixth of the population isn't insured, half of those who are insured get their claims denied by the stinking insurance companies, 100,000 families a year are going bankrupt and most of it is because of the total screwing they get from the health-care industry, there's not a family in America who doesn't have a horror story to tell, and everyone knows the whole thing is a huge screwy stinking rotten mess, but the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are gonna fight like cornered rats to keep it just the way it is until they bleed every last one of us totally dry and toss our empty husks out like clam shells, and I'll be damned if I can tackle all that in one column without help, so's I was sorta hoping you'd help me, seeing as how you're the only person I know personally who comes right out and admits he's a socialist, and since it's as obvious as the snot in that fella's beard that socialized medicine is the road we need to take ... see."
Hoot whistled. "Gull-durn, Badge. You were right about this guy. He sure does talk a lot."
Bob nodded. "If you think he's bad now, wait'll he gets another beer in him." Then he turned to me. "If I know you, Cope, you'll want to dress this up in some sort of cutesy-crap, twisty gimmick, right?"
"You bet, Bob. I figure people won't even bother to read some dry old discussion on single-payer health care without some show biz thrown in."
"So with all there is to talk about, plus whatever fantasy you're planning on setting it to, you're looking at a two-part column, aren't you?"
"Oh, at least two parts. I mean, jeez, this is about getting Americans, who don't do all that much thinking even about the easy things, to give serious thought to one of the hardest decisions this country is ever going to make. So yeah ... two parts, maybe three."
"Which means you're planning on being here all night, aren't ya'?"
"Well, I'd sure hate to drive back to the valley in the dark. Maybe I could sleep in your bean bag chair? Maybe?"
Hoot groaned. "Badge, for God's sake, he ain't even a member."
(Join me next week and find out what I'm not a member of, plus what Badger Bob says about socialized health care.)