Washington is nuts -- just the way we like it

You do know, don't you, that the health care debate is wholly nuts?

Republicans don't tell the truth and Democrats look for anything that might look less liberal than the previous thing the Republicans were not telling the truth about.

Nobody makes any sense. That includes the 10 Democratic senators who declared last week that they'd compromised away from the big-government idea of a public health insurer by designing, well, bigger government in a more complicated array of elements.

They've smashed a painting into a jigsaw puzzle and told us it's easier to appreciate when it's all broken up.

It starts here: A public health insurer option entering the marketplace is not socialism, no matter what Republicans allege or how much Democrats fret.

It's no more socialistic than the Postal Service competing with FedEx and UPS or public colleges competing for students with private ones or a public policeman having a cup of coffee with a private security guard. We've been mixing and matching public and private services in this country for nigh unto a century.

Centrist Democrats, worried about getting re-elected from reddish states where Republican misinformation resonates, complain about the costs to our bankrupt public treasury of a public option. But the public option would be designed to be self-sustaining, and, if it couldn't manage that, we could always board it up and try something else. This is not the last health care debate we will ever have.

Let me tell you about our single most socialistic program. It's Medicare. The central government takes public tax money and monopolizes the health insuring of seniors.

It's on a course to go broke because, unlike the public option, it's an entitlement rather than a competitive market option. But we love it, as well we should. It saves our parents' and grandparents' lives, that's all.

You have these politicians, all Republicans and some nervous Democrats, saying on the one hand that they oppose a public health insurance option and on the other hand that they will resist any cost-cutting efficiencies in the decidedly more socialistic and deficit-ridden Medicare program.

And for some reason we don't laugh out loud in these politicians' faces over the nonsensical contradictions with which they insult what ought to be our intelligence.

So what was the compromise announced last week by 10 Democratic senators? I refer to the one that, they say, will break the logjam and put us on a Christmas course to health reform. It's this: They're going to kill a public option in the marketplace, because, you know, people think that's socialism and costly. And they're going to turn around and let people from 55 to 64 go into Medicare, which is really socialistic and costly, but which we love.

Then, rather than set up a government insurer to compete with private ones for people under 55, we're going to empower the government to order private insurers to set up nonprofit health insurance plans -- to avoid making money, I mean -- and then have the government tell these private insurers how to run these plans.

It's like shutting down the Postal Service because it is socialized mail delivery, then ordering FedEx and UPS to set up sideline operations to deliver packages on a nonprofit basis.

We seem to think it's un-American for the government to compete with the private sector, but not for government to order the private sector to compete with itself.

Oh, well. In the end it's less important that we have no clue what we're doing than that people now without health insurance may soon be able to get some.

Actually, nothing is more all-American these days than political nonsense. We seem somehow to make it work for us. What we end up doing is usually a little more reasonable than we say, thank goodness.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.