Editor's note: This commentary first appeared in the Jan. 22 Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal in response to Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s decision to relocate its corporate headquarters from Louisville to Nashville, Tenn.
And it came to pass that in those days there appeared before the multitudes of the city a smooth talker from the land of Columbia, who owned many bedpans and buildings for the sick, and who smiled not with his eyes but with his teeth.
And the people from the city simpered and fawned before him, for he promised to bring into the city headquarters and build great buildings and cause wealth to fall from the sky upon the people. And the people, even the leaders thereof, not being brighter than required to pour liquid from a boot, harkened unto him and begged him to abide among them, him and his wealth.
And he spake unto them saying, "Yea, River Citians, all this and more shall be yours if only you will bow down and worship me. But none but me shall be adored; more than me you can't afford.
"You must also join me in my fight against the Prince of Darkness Clinton and his tacky plan to take medical care to the untidy masses. And take off those silly taxes. You can't expect a wonderful person like me to come into your quaint little place and strew about my buildings and stadia and so on and put up with something as common as taxes."
And the people gathered to feed him chicken and adore him and howl hatred of Clinton and taxes. And he looked upon them, yawned and said: "That's nice." And he summoned the mayor, the governor and those in high places to come and do his bidding. And the people said, "Yea, do it, for he is cool."
But there was among the throng at the love feast a scribe, a man of sour mein and poor disposition, who looked upon the smooth talker from Columbia with jaundiced eye and curled lip. And he would not bow down.
And lo, the scribe warned the worshipers: "Be not hasty to crown Slick Rick your king. For his heart is on business and is hardened toward civic duties and such. He loves not your city but what he can get from it. And surely his past indicates that he gets his pound of flesh from more places than the operating room."
Then turned the multitudes their backs to the wise and humble scribe, and they heaped upon Slick Rick awards and favors, and made him head of the United Way charity drive, a post usually granted to veterans of civic contributions. They lavished on him fat contracts for med schools and promised to free him from taxes.
And they said, "Give us now the new headquarters skyscraper and a stadium for football."
And he replied: "Not so fast. You still make me pay taxes like common people. If you appreciate me not, I may leave and go where they will." And the people were sore afraid, and they slobbered with fear at his frown.
But the taxes vanished not. And with sound and fury the regal Rick turned against them, left them and went toward the south. And there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the people cried in their woe and said: "Without his bounty we are not a world-class city, and prosperity shall depart from us."
Then spoke the businessmen: "See what we told you about ruinous business taxes? And now we are ruined. Business will shun us and our name shall be anathema in the chambers of commerce, spoken with curses, not loud but deep."
And they said: "Anyone with enough sense to tell the flies from the raisins on the cookie knows you should not tax the rich, for they will become wroth and depart from you. Rather, tax the poor and middle class, who have no place to go and can do nothing about it." And they shouted: "It's the middle class, stupid!"
And the men who sought to build a stadium, a great temple of concrete for football warriors, said: "Hey, how about that $10 million you promised for the stadium? And the captains of Columbia said to the stadium champion: "Well, maybe, maybe not. Will you name it for us?"
Then spoke the scribe and said: "Put not your faith in the words of those who seduced you with honeyed words, used you and cast you aside. And put no stock in a Columbia Field; your players may approach it on a Saturday only to find it has been shifted to Nashville. Nor let your faith rest in a Rick Scott Stadium. Should U of L beat its opponent, you might awake on Sunday to find the score has been changed and the opponent is now the winner.
"Put not your faith in people who get first grabs on the U of L Med School, and then have second thoughts about building promised buildings. But let not this episode bring sorrow to your face or woe to your hearts. Nor listen to those who say yours is no longer a world-class city. Say to them: "Today we are what yesterday we were; tomorrow we shall not be less."
"Yes," said the scribe. "It is the same town it was before Rick slipped away. It is a pleasant place, perhaps not always a fount of milk and honey, but a good place to live with good neighborhoods, schools and churches. Good bars and restaurants, fine theater, ballet, orchestra and opera. And an arts center that maketh the municipal pride swell. The parks soothe the eye and soul and refresh the body. The traffic moveth better than most. And the taxes are lighter than the rich complain.
"Yea, verily," said the scribe, "ours is as good a city now as it was before we started singing, `Hail, Columbia,'*" instead of "My Old Kentucky Home." It will be as good on the morrow.
"And let us rejoice that Wendell Cherry, who with David Jones built Humana, which became Columbia, who loved the town and the state, and gave us in large part the Humana Building and the Arts Center, did not have to see the sad fate of a fine dream."
John Ed Pearce is a freelance writer and columnist based in Louisville, Ky. He is retired from the Courier-Journal, where he held many positions, including editorial writer and associate editor.