Paine ‘n’ McCain at the OK Corral

“We have it in our power to begin the world again.” –Thomas Paine

“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year.” –John McCain

I just got back from the southwest, where I met and insulted a charming cowgirl.  I expected Tombstone, Arizona to be sort of like Frontierland at Disneyland.  Instead, we parked across the street Lefty’s Corner Store, where they offered a wide selection of guns and ammo.

There was even a saloon that looked not like a dusty Hollywood set, but a shiny, functioning, gorgeous Western tavern, complete with pool table and a panoply of intoxicating bottles lounging before a long, blaring mirror.

Tourist souvenir shops did dominate the main street, to be honest.  We wandered into a few.  A pair of baby booties that looked like cowboy boots lured us in.  “Where y’all from?” the clerk asked.  “Kansas City,” we said.

I asked her if she lived in Tombstone, or if anyone actually lived in Tombstone.  “I don’t, but some people do.  I only come here to work one day a week, and to bring my kinfolk when they visit.  But some people move here so they can live full-time like it’s 1880.”   Freaky!

“Do you think these booties are okay for a girl?” my friend asked.  Now this clerk, she wore close-cut white hair, a spanking-ironed pearl-button shirt, arrow-straight jeans, and lovingly polished cowboy boots.  “Girls can wear anything they want,” she snapped cheerfully.  I was a little in love with her.

Looking at the cowboy booties’ packaging, my friend remarked, “Hmm… made in China– isn’t that funny?” Because I’m kind of an idiot, I returned, “Well, people in China need jobs, too.”

I had betrayed myself as a pinko liberal UN Esparanza wacko to the cowgirl I loved.  Conversation had to immediately turn to how awesome American workers are and how awesome the stuff they make is, and at least I was wise enough to not go on my pontificating rant about how much I love Japanese cars.

Back and forth, enemies and allies.  The spitters and Hitler/Obama melders and race-baiters aren’t them.  They’re us.  Much as you might try to maintain strong enemy relationships, the world is a slippery place.  Enemies to allies.  Allies to enemies.

The health care reform plan is market-based, largely runs through the private sector, and maintains our position in the world as a right-leaning democracy.  Still, John McCain is so angry that he’s taking his toys and going home, when his job is to cooperate.  Unless you get elected supreme dictator, that is your job.

John McCain won’t always be an enemy.  He’s resolutely anti-torture, and I admired and respected his stand.  He didn’t cave to his party for political gain.

Thomas Paine was also a strong-willed man.  Towards the end of his life, people constantly approached him with pleas for conversion.  Paine called himself a Deist, and said things like “My own mind is my own church,” which lit a fire under many evangelically-minded Christians.  He died slowly, and ignored all the begging to accept Jesus.  He stuck to his guns the whole way.  Religious symbolism rings peaceful and true in my ears, but I respect his stand and his faith in himself.  His idea about recreating the world is, in Christian terms, “resurrection.”

I like old women who have never given a shit what people think of them.  I’d guess my cowgirl grew up in the 1940s or 1950s, and thinking of her wearing what she wanted and living free through those stifling times made me happy.  On the other hand, I also do sincerely believe that Chinese people are no less deserving of jobs than Americans, and that there can be enough work for everyone.  Allies to enemies.  Enemies to allies.


It was a very partisan car I was riding in.  I fantasize about having cocktails with FDR over his stamp collection.  The driver sitting next to me wishes he lived next to the Bush family, so he could mow their grass when they are out of town.  The House was debating health care reform in Washington, DC, and we were debating health care on I-35, north of Oklahoma City.

Our discussion in the car was painful.  Sometimes I had to send my focus across the southbound half of the interstate, to the Oklahoma pine trees wearing late spring snow.  Or I would see a nest in a tree and say to myself, hmmm, there’s a nest.

It was not easy to sit through the discussion.  Maybe the cancer histories of various relatives were invoked.  Maybe someone suggested that people who love European ways so much should go live there.  I absolutely did not endorse Cuban dictatorships or mob-fueled economic revolutions.  In fact, I joked about Cuba and coup d’etats.  Jokes, especially self-deprecating jokes, are an antidote for poison that creeps into conversation.

What saved us was that it’s hard to hate a Republican when he’s driving you in his car on a fabulous road trip.  And it’s hard to hate a Democrat when she just sneaked downstairs to the hotel lobby to buy you a bag of peanut M & Ms (your favorite).  Also, I kept reminding my pounding, impassioned heart that no one had a gun to my head.  Breathe deeply.  It’s just politics.

Health care reform is almost a miracle.  I was so afraid, so many times, that fear would win.  We can’t find the money.  We can’t try a new way.  It will only get worse.  We can’t let the government have more power.  They mess everything up.  We are too poor now.  Health care will bankrupt us. I do believe this will be difficult to pay for.  My insurance and health care costs are a significant expense.  They would be an impossible expense if I had a serious illness or lost my job, however.

It is also impossible to know what any complex government program will cost– we have merely projections based on theories.  But we will adjust.  We are tough.  We are cowboys.   We have rearranged and held together Medicare and Social Security with duct tape.  We have cut up welfare and sewn it back together.  Not because it was easy or cheap.  Because the value of a human being is not tied to her financial solvency, or her health.  Because we want to protect our greatest asset: our people, and their muscle and creativity.  They aint no good to us when they’re ailing!

I have to admit that later, when I saw the 6:20 pm update on the internet, I actually danced around my bedroom and made up a song about Nancy Pelosi and Obama and Rahm Emmanuel.  None of them have easy names to rhyme, let me tell you.

Health care reform is almost a miracle to me.  A real honest-to-God miracle, all partisanship aside,  is being able to discuss controversial political issues in a moving car without anyone screaming, jumping out, or bursting into tears.  A real miracle requires the strength to listen when your mouth wants to whip the other person’s argument senseless.

What if it even ended with people saying, “I love you anyway”?  Let me assure you: it happens.