Saturday, October 30, 2010

"High Popalorum and Low Popahirum" on the 2010 Campaign Trail

OXFORD, Miss. – The evening is cool, the sky is clear, and the air is thick with talk of politics and the smell of the best barbecue chicken I’ve eaten since my daddy passed away.

There’s also a generous hint of bourbon in the air, but the hundreds of people here at Johnny Morgan’s “Good Ole’ Boys and Gals” semi-annual cookout are high on politics, not booze. Here are sheriffs, chancery and city clerks, county supervisors, aldermen, state legislators, judges of every make, shape, stripe, and judiciary level.

In the crowd are dozens of past, present, and future candidates for every conceivable public office in North Mississippi and beyond, and a few old-time politicos and legends like Flick Ash of nearby Potts Camp. When I ask Ash how active he is in politics these days, he eyes me curiously and gives the cryptic answer you’d expect from a master. “I’ve got a few friends. I’d like to think I have a little influence.”

Located at Lafayette County Supervisor and former legislator Morgan’s metal barn off Highway 7, this is the best political party Mississippi offers north of Neshoba County. The people here are the movers and shakers at the local level, the men and women who work the precincts, know the numbers, and help get out the vote, so the two major candidates in Mississippi's hotly contested 1st congressional district race weren’t about to miss this.

I listen as both U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss., and the Republican who wants to oust him, Alan Nunnelee, take their turns on the podium. Nunnelee wastes no time slapping the dreaded U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tag on Childers. The California Democrat is a bête noire in GOP circles. Childers responds by putting the horrid “tax hiker” tag on Nunnelee for supporting Gov. Haley Barbour’s 2009 hospital tax.

An old leftie like me can’t help but shake his head. I want to quote Shakespeare (and my hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt) and say, “A plague on both your houses.”

“Blue Dog” Democrats like Childers and 4th Cong. District Rep. Gene Taylor are in unusually tough fights this year because of the “D” behind their names. Both come from predominantly white districts, and, let’s face it, “white” in Mississippi increasingly means conservative—no, make that arch-conservative—and Republican.

This is the year of Republicans-Marching-in-Lockstep in Congress, and in the hustings the Tea Party Ascendance, the so-called “grassroots” movement that is actually fueled and financed in part by the likes of right-wing billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Alongside the mysterious Koch brothers and their Americans for Prosperity organization is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, taking full advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling by pumping millions into what Nation magazine calls “the most expensive midterm election in history.” Just how much of that money comes from foreign countries like India and Bahrain we don’t know.

I listen to Childers and remember how he voted against health care reform. So did Taylor, who even signed a petition to repeal the legislation. Nunnelee would be no different. Maybe they think Americans are just hunky-dory with their doctor bills and insurance premiums and the fact that a pre-existing condition can mean no insurance.

I’m also remembering Louisiana’s long-ago political boss Huey Long and his famous “High Popalorum and Low Popahirum” speech. “The only difference that I’ve found between the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership is that one of them was skinning from the ankle up, and the other from the ear down.”

Still, I know what’s at stake in Tuesday’s election. If the Republicans do as predicted and take over the House, any real government action to deal with this recession will likely come grinding to a halt. What we’ll get instead will be House investigation after investigation aimed at embarrassing and ultimately toppling a Democratic administration with the hope of a restoration of the good ol’ days.

Remember those days?

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