All over again 

I don’t like re-runs, either TV shows or newspaper columns. They suggest laziness and a certain presumptuousness, and they’re always at least a little bit stale. You haven’t seen any of them in this space in 20-odd years of Arkansas Times column-writing, tempted as I often was.

But with all the recent grabbery by our outgoing governor/presidential aspirant I’ve been experiencing some déjà vu-type flashbacks. Has it always been so with him? As just one example, here’s a chunk of a column from more than eight years ago that attests to his unrelenting career adherence to the gimme principle.

Oct. 30, 1998 — The Bro.-Gov. has been caught, chronicled, spending money not his’n, state money, your money, thousands upon thousands dollars of it, to buy personal stuff for himself, ma, and the young’uns — pizzas, pantyhose, doghouse accessories, boat fuel, drycleaning, etc.

Everyday expenses of a kind that most active, well-fed, upwardly mobile middle-class families incur.

The difference is, most families figure out a proper way to pay for this stuff themselves — the cost of it, with their house payment and utilities thrown in, eats up most of their income, but the next paycheck’s coming so they manage to keep on keeping on. Not so the Bro.-Gov. Why should he squander his hard-earned 65 grand of salary on tacos and Pepsis for that Jethro-appetited brood of his when he can pass on the bill to you? …

You have to remember Bro.-Gov. is a preacher-man first and foremost, and it’s a fundamentalist-clergy tradition and mindset hereabout that we somehow owe it to them to furnish them with a wide array of goods and services. They have larger, ethereal matters to ponder and can’t be bothering with mundane indignities like household expenses. They require “pounding,” and a variety of allowances, to see after their daily bread and to forgive them their debts.

Preachers as a rule can’t build anything, or fix anything, or grow anything, or do much of anything — theology bakes no bread, the saying goes — and somebody has to look after all the practicalities for them, freeing them to concentrate on matters of the soul, and that’s what the Bro.-Gov., here in the twilight of a distinguished pulpit career, is used to. It’s the story of his life.

Being moral — deploring abortions, protecting God from thoughtless legislative nomenclature, thinking up preacherly jokes about toilet paper and rutting farm animals — this is what he does, and where in the Good Book does it say that somebody toting such a metaphysical load should have to pay for his Velveeta Loaf out of his own pocket?

The Bro.-Gov. has been writing checks for those first-family incidentals on an account designated for the upkeep and maintenance of the Governor’s Mansion. He was under the impression — apparently still is — that this money was put there (perhaps by the Good Lord Himself, at one or two removes) not for Mansion upkeep but for him and the ma’am to use at their whim, up to $5,000 a month, the better to serve the Man Upstairs and the people of Arkansas without the enervation of purposefulness that midnight overdraft anxieties can cause.

“Our personal fund,” he called it in the documents publicized last week. “Money that was intended to be a source of income for us.” And he was damned — well, darned — if he would stand by quietly while fussbudget caretakers ripped him off by using small amounts of this Mansion-upkeep money to pay for ... well, for Mansion upkeep. Where did they get off, making such presumptions upon his personal brogoverly prerogatives?

You just know in his meditations thereupon he compared their maneuverings to do him out of what was rightly his to that Texarkana church trying to screw him out of his health insurance that time. And to those villainous parade officials cheating him out of his rightful place in the procession and putting him at the very end, with the worst floats and all the horse dookey.

This zealousness over perks — with the attendant exaggerated sensitivity to anything that might be considered deaconly stinginess or illiberality — is a preacherly attribute, an insecurity borne of a lack of that practical turn, and it’s a pitiful thing to see in a man of the cloth, a man who’s supposed to be a cut above the rest of us in these matters of selfishness and materialism, of gittin’ while the gittin’s good. A pitiful thing to see in a preacherman, in a follower of Him Who Was Without Possessions — yet there is precisely where it is most often seen.

Makes him look like a grasper, like an all-too-ordinary grabby pol. He will have what he’s entitled to, and if he errs it’ll be on the side of more, not less. I thought it also made him look petty, and not really much more so than usual. His record has been one of unrelieved pettiness. His offenses have been as petty as his accomplishments, and his “vision,” such as it is, is a vista of diminishing pettinesses trailing off in the fardistance to pure inconsequentiality… .

And so on. These days it’s another verse of the same old song.

About the only difference, he hits you up for bigger messes of pottage.


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