If the idea of thinking about the ongoing push for health-care reform gives you a headache, you are not alone.
Before this thing is over, Washington will set some sort of record for expending the maximum amount of hot air for a minimum sort of result.
On the left, the most ardent proponents of national health care warn that if the most sweeping proposals are not adopted tomorrow, we'll all be dead of brain cancer by the end of this week.
Among right-wingers, the belief is that immediate death is preferable to life in a nation that even thinks about extending health-care benefits to the poor and the cash-strapped — let alone to the sick and the dying.
To cite that nasty, redneck, chain-gang boss in the 1967 Hollywood classic Cool Hand Luke, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."
One reason that the health-care debate is so unsatisfying, so unproductive, is that politicians are too culture-bound. Just as generals too often plan for the future by re-imagining the last war, Washington can not seem to place current problems in a contemporary context.
For Republicans, that means crying "socialism" at the drop of an aspirin bottle. That may have worked to torpedo Hillary Clinton's massively imperfect health-care plan 15 years ago. But it is doubtful that it will work this time around.
You do not need a Nobel Prize in economics to realize that health-care costs are punishing businesses, and at the same time causing pain and anxiety to those workers lucky enough to be covered.
As for the increasing number of people not covered by some sort of plan, public opinion is trending in a way that finds this situation increasingly noxious. With unemployment threatening to exceed 10 percent nationwide, enough people who are covered fear that soon they, too, either will lose their protection or not be able to pay for it. This constituency of fear and apprehension is only going to increase.
The Democrats are prisoner of their own set of delusions. They mistake the nation's appetite for vigorous government intervention to halt a collapsing economy as an unconditional license to print money.
If the Republicans' big blunder is their underestimation of the degree to which the average American is hurting, the Democrats' big mistake is their failure to accurately assess just how damaged the economy is, how overburdened with debt is its every nook and cranny.
That miscalculation could prove fatal if the great economic implosion that began under Republican President George W. Bush continues long enough so that the Democrats, too, are tarred with its brush.
If the Republicans underestimate the need for health-care reform, and the Democrats miscalculate the nation's ability to pay for it, where does that leave the average Jane or John Doe?
The Phoenix goes to press just hours before President Barack Obama is to address the nation on Wednesday night. How should readers evaluate what he has to say?
First, be wary of any plan that promises to remedy all of the nation's needs in one fell swoop. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Second, health care needs to be portable. Most of the plans favored by the Democrats are tied to the workplace. Studies show that Americans will change jobs 11 times before they turn 40. Why deny this reality? Because organized labor, the biggest interest group pushing health-care reform, is workplace-centric and geared to the needs of the 20th century, not the demands of the 21st.
Third, look for evidence that health-care costs will be curtailed or restrained. When all is said and done, the Republicans — and a goodly number of conservative Democrats — are more interested in protecting the profits of the powerful insurance industry than the well-being of the public.
Understanding what is at issue in the health-care debate may not be simple, but it need not be painful.