(In Parts I and II, I go to Badger Bob for advice on how to proceed with a column promoting socialized health care, but only succeed in starting a heated argument between Bob and his partner in horseshoes, Hoot--an ardent libertarian and member of MOBBS. Actually, it would be easier for you just to go back and read Parts I and II than for me to try and explain it all. Suffice it to say, I'm having doubts as to whether I'll ever get a column promoting socialized health care out of all this, and I'm starting to wish I'd stayed home and written a nice little tribute to Karl Malden or Ed McMahon or somebody. But it's too late now. We rejoin the story as Hoot adamantly defends the competitive nature of free markets ...)
"I'll tell you what the solution is to all that gull-durn corporate control your so worried about, Badge. Free market competition. That's what. Free market competition solves every problem that God don't wanna mess with Himself!"
"Don't be a sap all your life, Hoot. You know what free market competition amounts to in the health-care industry? It's every hospital in the goddamn county thinking they have to have the same super-duper miracle machines so's they can keep up with one another, and then charging the public through the nose so they can pay for the damn things. It's pharmaceutical companies lobbying lawmakers to extend the patents on their drugs so they can continue to gouge us with those inhuman prices. It's insurance companies having the freedom to drop your Aunt Kathy as soon as she gets sick because of some bullshit pre-existing condition. It's the stinking freedom to decide they don't have to pay for little Timmy's autism therapy because they refuse to add autism on their approved list, or little Lucy's tonsillectomy because it's 'elective surgery.' Free market competition, my ass! All free market competition means to those jackals is who wins in the race to bleed the American people dry."
Every few minutes, I'd get an itch to contribute to the discussion. Bob, I would think, wouldn't now be a good time to remind your buddy Hoot that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without complete coverage of its citizens? Or, Hoot, did you ever consider how much easier and cheaper it would be for businesses if they didn't have the administrative hassles of insuring their employees? Or, know something, you guys? ... A growing number of insured Americans can't even afford the deductibles on the pissy policies they do have. But my penetrating observations languished, unspoken, as I was unable to find even the smallest opening in Bob and Hoot's debate. This Socratic dialectic thing was my idea, but to my dismay, it had left the station without me.
"Tell me something, Hoot. Were you so damned confident in the free markets back when Enron was kicking the crap out of California by manipulating the energy grid? Or how about when we found out that Halliburton bunch was screwing the military out of billions? Did that make you proud of your unfettered laissez faire? Huh? Or what we're going through now with all these damn banks and such? ... Doesn't that make you wonder even a little bit if unregulated commerce ain't entirely what it's cracked up to be? You really suppose this is what your precious Adam Smith had in mind?"
"Yeah ... well, uh ... just 'cause a glitch or two shows up in the capitalist system don't mean the whole thing's junk! And that's what socialism is. It's all junk! It ain't worked nowhere. It didn't work in Russia. It didn't work in Cuba. It didn't work ..."
"Hoot," snarled Bob, "like most ignorant dipshit rightwingers, you're confusing socialism with communism, which is like saying if a feller has a baked spud with his dinner, that makes him a vegan. And secondly, to one degree of success or another, socialism is working everywhere, including this national forest we're lucky enough to have around us right now. And if you look real close, you see the reason people started taking a socialist approach to any given problem was because whatever they were doing before either didn't work or actually caused the problem. So you need to quit thinking with your ideology, for Christ's sake, and start using your brain!"
"Badge? Did you just call me a dipshit?"
It was approximately at this point in the conversation--give or take an insult or two, plus the intervention of the owner/operator of the Come Squat Inn, who refused to allow the two 70-something cranks to get into a fist fight in his horseshoe pit--that I abandoned all hope of getting a socialized medicine column out of my trip to the mountains. I cuddled up on the tattered seat of a nearby derelict Volkswagen and tried to keep up with the discussion, but it was no use. With two quarts of Oly making their way through my brain to my bladder, I conked out. The last thing I remember hearing clearly was Bob explaining to the distraught Hoot that he was a capitalist, too.
"Let me see if I have this straight, Badge. You're a capitalist libertarian socialist?"
"I prefer to call myself a socialist libertarian on a capitalist cusp."
(Not so clearly, I remember waking up in the middle of the night, in desperate need of a urinal. The door into the Come Squat was locked but mercifully, there was an accommodating Syringa bush not 10 feet from the Volkswagen. Relieved and ready for more sleep, I crawled back into my nest in the Beetle. But I swear, as I was drifting off, I thought I heard from far off in the woods somewhere the haunting sound of several banjos--a banjo choir, if you will--thumping out a chorus of "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans.")
Later in the week, I got a call from Bob: "D'ja get your column on socialized medicine done?"
"Nope. I gave up. It's too big for me. Too many things to consider. Too hard. It'll never get done."
"Yeah, that's the way the Republicans hope we all see it."
"Bob, seriously. Are you really a libertarian, a socialist and a capitalist?"
"You ever do much with your hands, Cope? You know ... like build things or fix things? If you do, then you may have experienced the old truth about finding the right tool for the job. That's all this is about--finding the right tool for a job that's gotta get done. And we already know what doesn't work, don't we?"