‘Great MOHELA Shuffle’ rivals Shakespearean tragedy

Sunday, April 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:50 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

If you were at last Sunday’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet” in Jesse Hall, as I was, I’m sure you spotted right away, as I did, the obvious parallels between that classic and the long-running show that is on stage again this week down in the City of Jefferson. Of course, I mean the “Great MOHELA Shuffle.”

Sure, there are some differences. For one thing, the dancing in Jesse Hall was a lot more graceful and applause-inspiring than the stumbling around in Jeff City has been. For another, the young Russians on stage were considerably more attractive than I recall most of our elected representatives as being. And while “Romeo and Juliet,” despite a few touches of comedy, is a tragedy, the “Great MOHELA Shuffle” more closely resembles farce.

The similarities, though, begin with what, in both cases, must have seemed like a good idea at the time but rapidly turned sour. Misdirected love, or lust, for a beautiful girl inspires a young Montague to put his hands on the wrong Capulet. In much the same way, and for much the same reason, a misguided young governor seeks to grab a shapely pot of money he should have known better than to fondle.

In both cases, confusion and misunderstanding quickly lead to unintended consequences.

In both cases, religion intrudes with disastrous results. On stage, the priest provides a magic potion that leads to death by poisoning. In the legislature, the religion-backed opposition to stem cell research proves equally fatal, with just about the same amount of posturing along the way.

In both cases, too, heroes are hard to find and easy to vanquish. In the ballet, a well-intentioned pal of Romeo leaps into a sword fight and winds up with a blade through his gizzard. Romeo then has to finish the fight and skewer his friend’s killer. In the legislature, the bloodshed is only metaphorical and financial. Our own Sen. Chuck Graham takes up his sword in defense of a university that does not seem overly interested in defending its own principles. When the curtain falls on that scene, Chuck is bloodied, the university is prostrate, and Sen. Gary Nodler prances off stage right, knife in hand.

After intermission, in both cases, the plot devolves from bad to worse. On stage, the lovely but not-too-bright Juliet awakes from her drug-induced stupor to discover that she fooled Romeo all too well. She kills herself. But on stage, even tragedy can have a sort-of-happy ending, as the feuding families reconcile.

Reconciliation seems a long shot in the Capitol. Our not-so-lovely and not-too-bright legislators show all the signs of approving a bill that, quite possibly illegally, strips the student loan fund and also, quite possibly unconstitutionally, limits the university’s ability to set tuition. The original goals of advancing research and boosting economic growth have vanished into the scenery.

The other week, in another context, I quoted James Madison as foreseeing that democracy might decay into “farce, or tragedy, or possibly both.” In our legislature, you’d be wise to bet on both.

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