A Voter's Pity for Poor Old Politicians

Last week, I listened to the Republican National Convention and heard a lot of bull.

This week, I am listening to the Democratic National Convention and hearing a lot of bull.

Alben Barkley of Kentucky

It’s like they say of the hot-air cowboy down on the town square in Waxahachie, Texas, who talks a lot and has absolutely nothing to talk about: He’s all hat and no cattle.

Plenty of bull.

No cattle.





No cattle.

Love of God, motherhood, the flag, and apple pie.

The Republicans have it, and the Democrats don’t.


Maybe it’s that the Democrats have it, and the Republicans don’t.

As Stephen Woodfin wrote so eloquently in his blog: The best way to make a point is to tell a story.

So everyone is telling stories.

And it strikes me that everyone at both conventions is telling stories about how poor they were, how hard life was in their early years, how they had to struggle in order to survive. Eating off an ironing board because they couldn’t afford a dining table. Driving a rusted out car. Facing college loans whose monthly payment was larger than their mortgage payment. Dumpster diving for cofee tables. Grandmothers who had to work so hard as maids. Mothers who had to work so hard so their children would have a better life. Fathers who had to work so hard to keep their families together. Life was nothing more than a bowl of pennies. Before it’s over, I expect to hear that some of the candidates were sleeping in crates in back alleys. One pundit referred to the whole mess as a “Destitution Derby,” and everyone was fighting for the pole position.

I am convinced that everyone I heard, Republican or Democrat, has one great regret.

They weren’t born in a log cabin. Or, as Bill Clinton said, “They want everybody to believe they were born a log cabin they built themselves.”

You would think that both party platforms have one plank in common: Thank God, for poverty. Or, at least, thank somebody for poverty.

Whoever is the poorest wins.

It reminds me of the story that former Vice President and Kentucky Senator Alben Barkley told during an election campaign in the late 1940s. Of course, Barkley was one of the fortunate few. He was born in a log cabin. His story went something like this.

It was a decade after the War Between the States, and three men were running for the House of Representatives. They met at a Labor day picnic, and each climbed to the podium to make his campaign speech before the farmers and merchants who had gathered beneath a grove of oak trees.

The first candidate said, “You will notice that I have only one leg. I want you to know that I lost my leg fighting for my Southern home in the battle of Shiloh.”


The second candidate said, “You will notice that I have only one arm. I want you to know that I lost my arm fighting for my old Kentucky home in the battle of Vicksburg.”


The third candidate stood in silence for a moment, then said, “I had no idea that having an infirmity was so important to getting elected around here. But if it is, and apparently it is, I want you know that I am the doggondest most ruptured sonuvabitch in Kentucky.”

Of course, as Barkley said, “A good story is like fine Kentucky bourbon. It improves with age, and, if you don’t use it too much, it will never hurt anyone.”

Even now, he’s probably right.

Caleb Pirtle III is author of Other Voices, Other Towns, a collections of stories he found and characters he met during his days as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine.



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