Health care reform as reality show fodder?

Bob Maistros Chief Writer, Reagan-Bush '84 campaign
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Seriously, who could question the sincerity of the conservatives calling for the House-Senate parleys that will reconcile competing versions of the big health care bill to be displayed in living color on C-SPAN?

Indeed, I remember those cameras right up close and personal back in 2004 for the deal-making by Tom the Hammer over the price of Michigan Congressman Nick Smith’s vote for W’s Medicare prescription drug benefit bauble.

Oh. That.

Anyway, America’s yes-we-candidate did once promise that the sausage-making on his health initiative would be so 99.44 percent pure that it could be presented for all to see on the celebrated public affairs channel.  But if you ask me, given all the Sturm, Drang and drama (or is it comedy?) surrounding this epic legislative exercise, we’re talking the wrong cable outlet here.

I’m thinking the Reality TV Network.

Let’s open with a dueling, Idol-style duet between our President and Congressman Joe Wilson.  Sleek Barry delivers a heartfelt rendition of Billy Joel’s Honesty.  A little high for his mellifluous baritone range, and – not surprisingly, given the Commander-in-Chief’s recent tone-deafness – “pitchy” to boot, says Randy. Joe counters with The Eagles’ Lyin’ Eyes. Too brash and confrontational, Simon opines.  The nationwide audience disagrees, as a flood of votes … in the form of millions in contributions … pours in for Joe.

Cut to a cozy window seat outside the Senate Finance hearing room, and Max Baucus cuddling up next to Olympia Snowe to get a little love … for his version of the health bill.  (Plus the political cover of a GOP vote.)  They demurely bat eyes at each other as she sides with him in the Council.

Suddenly it’s off to the hot tub, where sultry temptress Nancy Pelosi is stroking the upright Bart Stupak’s … ego … while cooing softly into his ear about accommodations she’ll offer him and his pro-life posse for their “cooperation.”  Unbeknownst to the canoodling couple, two Barbaras – Mikulski and Boxer – are inside watching the entire scene unfold via hidden camera, their eyes widening, lips pursing, and press teams scurrying to prepare shocked statements.

The wronged pair storms out of the mansion in a jealous hissy fit, setting up an ugly love triangle … er, pentagon … er, heptagon … er, I’ve lost count … that also enmeshes coquettish Southern belle Mary Landrieu, earnest prairie populist Ben Nelson and an increasingly desperate Harry Reid.  Harry is wooing overtime to determine which of his 59 bachelors/bachelorettes will earn the coveted rose (along with a few hundred million in green for their respective states) for providing a precious 60th vote.

Meanwhile, on the remote desert island known as the Senate Republican Caucus, the cat-fighting gets ugly, and out flies that nasty four-letter word:  RINO.  Olympia, stung, switches her allegiance to courtly Mitch McConnell.  The spurned Max takes to the floor (and allegedly, to a certain cabinet in his office) to pour out his hurts before a nationwide YouTube audience.

No matter.  Mary’s virtue proves the least resistant.  (She does hail from “The Big Easy.”)  Ben holds out longer, but plied by a lifetime supply of Omaha Steaks and Medicaid exemptions (because the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and state budget), ultimately accepts the rose from Harry’s trembling hand.

Now, the tangled web only gets thicker.  Political bedfellows Harry and Nancy must find a way to maintain the ardor of the wavering Bart, the simmering Barbaras and the embattled Ben … who, having lost the hearts of his Cornhusker constituency, has suddenly appeared on the Idol stage to belt out Brenda Lee’s I’m Sorry.  (We’re sorry too, concludes Kara.)  Ultimately, the Speaker and the Senate leader retire to the basement of the Big Brother House (formerly known as the Capitol) for a little game of legislative ping-pong.

I’m predicting blockbuster Nielsen ratings.  Approval ratings are another matter altogether.

Bob Maistros was the chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, a former Senate subcommittee counsel and a longtime public relations advisor for companies ranging from AOL to MTV to XM Satellite Radio. He now offers biting satire based on insights gathered at the front lines of headline-making corporate crises, political contests and the culture wars.