Paul Greenberg

It's not as if all these politicos were grownups. Like any brats, they know the psychological game being played here and how to play it. They're not fooling anybody except those partisans on both sides who want to be fooled. It's hard to believe these pols are fooling even themselves. Especially themselves. They know what they do. It's obvious. But in this game Rule No. 1 is never, never admit it.

As the government of the United States stays shut down, at least partially, like a motor stuttering into (non-)action, both parties are busy. No, not restarting the huge engine, but blaming the other for its failure.

There was once a governor, senator and de facto dictator of the Gret Stet of Louisiana named Huey Pierce Long who remains a legend within its borders and far beyond. He would have understood all too well what's going on here.

Some claim ol' Huey was the greatest governor in that state's history, and they may have a point -- to judge only by the university, hospital, state capitol, free textbooks and other monuments he left behind. Though they'd have a stronger case if they called him the worst governor that state ever had, given his strong-arm tactics and unbridled ambition. Not since Aaron Burr had America produced so brazen a would-be caudillo.

Like many if not most politicians, Huey P. Long, aka The Kingfish, always had his eye on the next step up. In his case, it was to become the first fascist president of the United States. He never made it to the White House, being shot down in the gleaming lobby of that soaring skyscraper of a state capitol he would leave behind as a memorial to himself. Sic transit gloria. Though some would say Sic semper tyrannis.

Whatever folks down Looziana way thought, and still think, of the legendary founder of the Long dynasty, Huey was surely the best storyteller who ever occupied the governor's office of that state. Or maybe any other. One of his many stories came back on watching our two political parties try to pin today's Great Government Shutdown on the other.

Huey Long was formally a U.S. senator but still effectively governor of Louisiana when he shared a country story about a drummer, which was then the term for a traveling salesman, as Huey well knew, having been one. The story was about a couple of patent medicines like the ones he used to peddle out in the country even before Hadacol made it big for a while.

These two medicines, he claimed, bore the grand names High Popalorum and Low Popahirum, depending on whether the bark they were made from was stripped from the top down or from the bottom up. Which was also the only difference, he claimed, between "the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership" in Congress.

Huey's story never seems to lose its relevance. It certainly sums up today's bipartisan stand-off in Washington. How little things have changed.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.