Here inside the cloistered alternative universe called Washington, D.C., many politicos are paying an unusual amount of attention to the health of Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota. The latest, as of 42 minutes ago as I begin typing, is that he has been conscious at several times since last week's emergency brain surgery. The reason that everyone is so concerned, of course, is politics. Johnson is a Democrat and the governor of South Dakota is a Republican. Everyone around here knows what that means, since the Democrats have a one-vote margin in the new Senate. As The Washington Post crisply explained last week:
The Constitution provides for governors to fill U.S. Senate vacancies, whereas House vacancies must be filled through elections. Johnson can remain in the Senate through the end of his term, regardless of his medical condition. In recent decades, senators have missed up to four years of votes because of illness or old age without giving up their seats.
Should Johnson's seat become vacant before Jan. 4, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, could replace him with a Republican, resulting in a 50-50 Senate when Congress opens. Vice President Cheney, as Senate president, would break tie votes in the Republicans' favor, giving them the majority.
Thus, it is not surprising that we have seen a few headlines like the one offered by ABC News: "Democrats Pray for a Senator's Health, as Senate Control Hangs in Balance." All we need now is for the Rev. Pat Robertson to broadcast an appeal for God's Own Party to start the prayer winds blowing in the other direction. That would stir up some headlines.
Just kidding. Actually, I have nothing against people praying for the health and recovery of loved ones and associates. I consider this rather normal. Then again, I am that kind of person. Right?
Which leads me to a very interesting passage in the aforementioned Post story, by reporter Charles Babington. It was one of those strange journalistic flourishes that caused me to shake my head. Ready?
Although Johnson's illness was the talk of Washington [Thursday], politicians in both parties refrained from publicly discussing how the two-term senator's illness might affect the incoming 110th Congress. A few Democratic lobbyists and their spouses were dining Wednesday night at Sesto Senso, an Italian restaurant near Dupont Circle. As they discussed Johnson's condition, they folded their hands as if praying for him, a gesture that appeared tinged with political as well as heartfelt sentiments.
This immediately raised some questions for me as a reporter.
Did an editor send Babington or, perhaps, an intern out to visit the haunts of Washington insiders to see what people were saying and doing during this crisis? Did this journalist see the Democratic insiders from afar and watch them fold their hands in this colorful and strange manner? Or, by some chance, was the reporter actually having dinner with this circle of politicos and, thus, knew that they were praying or, perhaps, even prayed with them, but was afraid to share this detail? Or was the reporter sitting at the next table listening and could not quite hear the telltale word "Amen"? Did a source leak the information that Democrats were seen praying?
It's all there in those wonderful words, "folded their hands as if praying."
Where is Jim Wallis when you need him? Somebody trustworthy needs to tell this city's elite journalists that prayer is a natural thing. Go ahead and talk to people about it. Democrats can pray too, you know, right out in public.