FORGET ABOUT the gridlocked national electorate and the mandate-free presidency.
Don't worry about Mike Mussina or the Middle East.
Think about a real problem: Think about those forces now splitting the Clarksville Fire Department from its Ladies Auxiliary after 53 years.
Is it legal to have a volunteer fire company without an auxiliary? Seems anti-American, seditious -- dumb, actually.
The Ladies Auxiliary is as American as apple pie. It's as American as motherhood. Come to think of it, it is motherhood.
What would Norman Rockwell have thought?
Even folk singer and sweet radical Woody Guthrie would have had apoplexy.
He knew the importance of auxiliaries and wrote a fun-poking song about them:
Oh the ladies auxiliary
Is a fine auxiliary
It's the finest auxiliary
That you ever did see ...
It's the Ladies ... Aux-il-ary.
But not in Clarksville. Not now.
Some say the split came over the usual things: control and money. It was, they say, an overwhelming desire for control of the ladies' fund-raising juggernaut, a control impulse exacerbated by (hardly needs saying) male chauvinism.
A bit of who struck John creeps in.
The ladies say their selection of food basket beneficiaries was shot down by the men -- even as the men bought Orioles tickets.
The men, admirably reflective and reflexive, say: So? Sue me.
Hard to believe this could be happening in Clarksville. Or is it hard to believe? Clarksville is a privileged part of Howard where the zip code can add zeroes to property values.
Has the whole thing gone out of control as Clarksville takes on a few airs? An average family income of $97,000; a shopping center with an organic food store; a new firehouse with a ballroom! Is it legal for a volunteer fire hall to have a ballroom?
Yet, it's still a bit isolated out there, so maybe chauvinism is the enduring all-American virtue. Maybe it's the one small place in America that doesn't need an auxiliary?
What a distinction!
Some blame the tax laws for driving the ladies out of fund raising. The firefighters say they had to take control of the money to preserve their non-profit status. They were holding back the IRS. What gallant men!
A tax expert says the auxiliary probably could have continued its good works without interference from Washington.
But, what if the feds did object? Wouldn't the good town mothers and fathers of Clarksville have stood defiantly in protest, daring the bully government to enforce such a silly ruling? Surely, they would have.
And still would.
In fact, the entire county and this newspaper would have fallen in beside them.
Had the presidential candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush, known of this rupture they would have used it as another example of:
A: The breakdown of communal life as we know it.
B: The bureaucratic meddling so vexing to Americans.
C: Something else the surplus could repair.
Either man, despite inexperience at high-level mediating, would have been standing there in the front rank of the rally shouting, "Right on!"
If this thing doesn't get settled, maybe the winner will ride over here to reaffirm his commitment to the American way. Clarksville will replace Camp David as a place known around the world.
We'll be trying to divine the motives of Patty Thompson, an Auxiliary veteran; and Dave Moynihan, the deputy chief, among others.
Both the Clarksville sides are saying good riddance at the moment, but surely that's pique and pride. Surely a way can be found to patch things up.
The volunteer men and women of Clarksville -- leaders all -- should show us how commitment to community prevails. They've been a symbol of strong community values for too long to pout off in a corner.
The stakes are high. And not just the money, though auxiliaries provide $3,000 to $100,000 for various purposes a year, according to Peggy Webb, president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Maryland State Fireman's Association.
The fabric of small-town life could be torn in Clarksville, and the tear could get wider, spreading to the rest of the county and to all of Maryland, which of course is America in miniature.
So, come on ladies and gents. Figure this out. The future of the Republic depends on it.
C. Fraser Smith writes editorials for The Sun from Howard County.