“In 1905, a famous London newspaper, the Illustrated London News, hired (prominent Catholic essayist G.K.) Chesterton to write a weekly column. He was told he could write about anything he wanted, except religion and politics. Chesterton responded by saying there was nothing else worth writing about.”

— Dale Ahlquist, “The Apostle of Common Sense”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton is one of the writers I most admire (and not just because he only used his initials).

I thoroughly agree with his opinion on the most worthwhile topics to cover — though some of my correspondents differ.

Still, there is another topic that we opinionators seem unable to avoid, no matter how often we discuss foreign affairs, domestic politics or deep philosophy. We cannot refrain from returning to it as regularly as swallows fly back to San Juan Capistrano — or turkey buzzards return to Hinckley, Ohio.

Of course, that topic is baseball.

It has been said that every real fan thinks that he (or she) is as capable of managing a baseball team as Connie Mack, Tony La Russa or Joe Torre.

That’s not quite correct. Most of them think they would do a better job than Mack or any of the others. And newspaper columnists are really quite the classic case of outsiders who imagine themselves as ultimate insiders, just as theater critics who have never written, produced or acted in a play can gleefully savage those who actually have the skill and desire to be creative on the stage.

In this, we only use our privileged position at the keyboard to do what most people do around the break-area coffee-pot or company lunchroom — or even in the middle of an otherwise serious meeting.

People (mainly, but not exclusively, males) pontificate on baseball not because it is a serious topic, but because it is not. We can be obsessed about the Red Sox because being obsessed about serious things leads you to be avoided, for the same reasons Chesterton was told to bypass serious topics.

You can make Yankees’ fans get upset, even mad; but the weightlessness of the topic defuses its impact on relationships with them. Sports, with rare exceptions (cough British soccer fans cough), offer a way to interact safely, avoiding the human reflex that says, “This person thinks differently about Topic X than I do; therefore he is a bad person.”

Wars have been started for less, and certainly countless relationships have been strained past the breaking point for just such foolish reasons.

Prussia’s Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, said that war was politics accomplished by other means (that is, the goals of armed conflict were still political), but it’s far better to think of politics as an alternative to waging war.

That is, in a democracy we should be able to win (or lose) a political battle and still maintain working relationships — or better still, even friendships — with those who oppose us.

Indeed, we have to. I am no big fan of compromise merely for compromise’s sake (as I noted in my recent column on the “OneMaine” campaign).

But there has to be room for it because continued conflict over basic issues, even in a democracy, can lead to war — as our history sadly testifies.

Of course, essential principle can’t be bargained away. This week, however, let’s ponder not social issues but other areas now in dispute that confront us and won’t disappear: entitlements and health care.

I think it’s safe to say that the way to reform our health care system to be efficient and effective at the lowest possible cost is not to gather members of your own party in a lame-duck session and cobble together a 2,000-page unreadable mess that one party leader says “we have to pass in order to know what’s in it.”

And regarding Medicare and Social Security, other nations provide for their elderly populations’ medical and income security needs without relying on systems so poorly established that they are inevitably doomed to failure over time.

I could list reforms I think would work and that have worked elsewhere, but that’s just me trying to be a better manager than La Russa or Torre. In all honesty, there have to be dozens of ways to construct systems that would meet society’s minimum needs without condemning our grandchildren to lives of penury.

That is what politics is for.

The essential principle we should not bargain away is that we have to stop mortgaging the future to benefit the present.

On those grounds, Obamacare is flawed from top to bottom and needs to be replaced.

But it will be no improvement if what replaces it is imposed on the nation exclusively by Republicans instead of exclusively by Democrats.

Both parties should produce their best ideas with the widest possible input and then conduct the next political campaign as a conscious effort to persuade voters to elect them to fulfill those clear, direct and well-constructed plans.

Our system could then work to provide a new Congress that will produce reforms that will save us from the mistakes of the past and protect our offspring from the mistakes of the present.

Our form of government offers us the opportunity to mold our future in such a way. Unless we take that opportunity, however, we will be choosing to shape our future by default in far less pleasant ways.

And I’m sorry, but we have to discuss politics to do it. And probably even religion.

But not baseball.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

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