So what's the difference between the leading contenders for the country's presidential nomination this sad election year? In the middle of still another rambling kumsitz billed as a "debate," something Huey P. Long once said came to mind. The senator, governor, incipient fascist and all-around demagogue out of Louisiana was the Donald Trump of his time, only with a homespun vocabulary and a lot more class. He didn't have The Donald's money but he was loaded with mother wit and folk knowledge, and he knew how to talk person-to-person instead of long distance at great staged rallies.
The Kingfish had it all figured out long ago. Back in his heyday, namely the 1930s, Senator/Governor/Humbug Long would tell a story about a traveling salesman who offered two varieties of a popular patent medicine: High Popalorum and Low Popahirum.
The first was taken from the bark of a tree from the top down. The other came from the bark of the same tree cut from the bottom up. Huey's conclusion: The only difference between the two types of politicians the country was producing at the time was that "one of them is skinning us from the toes up and the other from the ears down." OK, he was exaggerating, but his analysis of the political climate then wasn't much different from that of savvy types today. Especially now that we've lost the best hope of Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- Marco Rubio -- to make this year's campaign a respectable one.
Huey's cynical theory was -- and remains -- a common enough thought but nary so well expressed. It would apply just as well now to the supposedly crucial policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, her chief rival at the moment. The more things change, it seems, the more they remain the sad same -- even if our contemporary pols lack Huey Long's ability to sum things up in a single colorful phrase.
If the Kingfish was an aspiring tyrant with his eye always on the next rung up the political ladder, he was also a keen judge of his fellow politicians -- and their tricks.
More high popalorum and low popahirum is sure to come as the presidential election heads even further downhill -- like a mudslide.
To borrow another metaphor from Huey Long, the essential difference between the two Democrats fighting it out for a transient lead in the ever-shifting but equally meaningless polls is that one is a hoot owl and the other a scootch owl. What's the difference? Here's how he explained it:
"A hoot owl bangs into the nest and knocks the hen clean off and catches her while she's falling. But a scootch owl slips into the roost and scootches up to the hen and talks softly to her. And the hen just falls in love with him, and the next thing you know, there ain't no more hen!" Ol' Huey had both these pols figured out long ago.