04 March 2011

Boss Hogg vs. The Tea Party

Jefferson Davis Hogg,
Hazzard County Commissioner
The term, "professional politician" has long been pejorative, conjuring images of sleazy, scheming, cigar smoking fat cats smiling for the cameras and conspiring to concoct underhanded deals behind closed doors.  Growing up when and where I did, I would say Boss Hogg is the personification of that idea so for the sake of simplicity, I'll talk about Boss here but you'll know I'm referring to "professional politicians" in general when I mention him.

The folks in Hazzard County had little nice to say about Boss, but he kept winning re-election as county commissioner.  You know why?  Because Boss--his unabashed greed and duplicity notwithstanding--was good at his job.  Crime was largely confined to Boss's own corrupt business dealings and the only real danger in Hazzard was being on a dirt road.  The Duke boys kept him reasonably honest, and ensured that the Hazzard County Orphanage was well funded.  And say what you will about Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane's speed traps: I don't remember anyone ever complaining about Hazzard having a budget deficit problem.

Don't get me wrong.  I rooted for Bo and Luke in every episode, and understood even as a young child that even though they were in opposition to the law, they were in the right.  I'm sure The Dukes of Hazzard is responsible for why I've never been willing to assume that whomever is in a position of authority is a good guy.  Life isn't that simple, and I'm glad The Dukes helped me realize that early on.

Anyway, the Tea Party that emerged last year (the consequence of the Republican civil war I predicted almost a decade ago) basically had one objective: to supplant Boss Hogg.  Some of the Tea Party members are peers of Boss's, but largely their message has been that citizens without a political background should hold office in an effort to "clean up" American politics.  Sounds reasonable enough, right?

Here's the problem.  The average person isn't sufficiently equipped to replace Boss Hogg.  Boss's job isn't easy.  There's a world of difference between griping about the way he does his job and doing it yourself.  Right now, the 112th Congress, lead largely by Speaker of the House John Boehner has been obsessed with an agenda of undermining President Obama, no matter the cost.  When confronted with the possibility that the GOP's proposals could cost 800,000 Americans their jobs, Speaker Boehner simply replied, "So be it."  Boss Hogg would have understood that 800,000 more people applying for unemployment benefits is a bad thing.

The latest move has been to allocate a paltry $2 million to fund Poison Control services across the country, $27 million less than President Barack Obama requested in his budget proposal.  Poison control services are there to address the needs of the public good.  Boss Hogg would have nickeled and dimed them, sure, but even he would have understood that they're important.  If nothing else, Boss would have taken notice when Louisiana tried to eliminate poison control centers in the 1980s and was quickly forced to realize how much costlier it was to have people show up at emergency rooms instead of placing a call to the center.  Say what you will, but Boss Hogg would never have endorsed that kind of recklessness because it's not good business.

The Dukes font?  Boss Hogg would not approve.
Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin would have us believe that public worker unions are an exorbitant drain on his state.  David Cay Johnston debunked that claim, proving that public worker pensions are actually funded entirely by a deferred portion of worker salaries.  Collective bargaining isn't a problem for Wisconsin's budget; it's a political enemy of the governor and his benefactors who own businesses that despise unions.  If anything, this battle proves exactly why there should be unions for public workers: to defend against the Scott Walkers of the world, who come into and leave office without ever having to actually live with the consequences of their policy changes.  The teachers, nurses, etc. who will be affected by these policies were there before Walker and hope to be there after he's gone; they deserve better than this.  Boss Hogg wouldn't have liked unions, of course, and I'm not about to suggest he would.  But I can't imagine him abolishing public worker unions in Hazzard.  The Duke boys wouldn't have allowed it.  Even if they didn't personally care, Uncle Jesse would have stood with the blue collar workers.

Speaker Boehner, clearly concerned
with the consequences of his agenda.
I'm not saying that we should be accepting of Boss Hogg's underhanded ways.  His schemes to interfere with Jesse Duke making the mortgage payment on time were shameful, and no public official should continue to hold office once involvement with illegal activities is exposed.  But neither should we assume that just because someone hasn't spent their career in politics that they're better qualified to do his job.  They're not.  Say what you will, but the school teachers in Hazzard were never threatened like they are in Wisconsin and the people in Hazzard could take for granted that if they called a poison control center, someone would be there to take the call.

In barely two months under Speaker Boehner, jobs are being threatened and lives are literally endangered.  We should never have to choose exclusively between two extremes, but I for one reject any position that doesn't realize how irresponsible it is to deny Americans access to live-saving resources.

I urge you to click here to contact your congressional representatives to let them know that de-funding our poison control centers is a horrible idea.

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