Politicians and the Courage of Their Conflictions

By Jim Penn


(The following is a fictionalized account of facts.  Names have been changed, not to protect the unprotected innocent, but to give emphasis.)


I laugh a lot in election years.  I’m amused that people are amazed when politicians make promises they can’t keep.  They do it for votes, of course.  Transparent, obvious, patently absurd, the promises grab the public’s imagination.  People want to believe.


Election years transport me back to the early ‘60s.  Just beginning my career as an accountant with a Big Eight firm in San Diego (No, it wasn’t Arthur Andersen.), buttoned-down white shirts were in; eyeshades and armbands were out.  While I was auditing clients, I met two politicos who could have come directly from the comics.  Though not of Hispanic ancestry, I remember them as Don Ridiculoso and his sidekick, Pancho Vanilla.


I was auditing You Can Buy Everything Here, an alleged discount apparel and appliance store in the poorest section of the city, when Don and Pancho entered.  The proprietor, A.I. Ptolemy, greeted them.


“What can I do for you gentlemen?”


“I’m Pancho Vanilla and this is Don Ridiculoso, your state senator.  We help the small businessman.”


“I love the small businessman.”  Don shook A.I.’s hand vigorously, “You’re a small businessman, aren’t you?”


“Yes, I am.  Just trying to make a living.”


“I know how hard you work.  I know how hard your customers work.  I know how hard everyone works.  I’m here to help.  How can I help?”  Don surveyed the store.  He spotted me and said, “Your assistant seems to be working hard.  Bookkeeper, right?” he called in my direction.


“No, he’s an outside auditor.  My CPAs review the books every quarter.”


Don strolled over and said, “Thought about taking up accounting myself.  Great profession.  Bean counters.  Very important to small business.  Here’s my card.  I help small businesses.”


He made his way back to Pancho and A.I., “We have to go now.  Here’s my card and some more for your customers.  I love customers.  Salt of the earth.”


“I could use some help with the sales tax people.  They’re coming down pretty hard on me.”  A.I. declared.


“That’s out of my control.  Ver-r-ry regulated.  Don’t have much to do with the sales tax people.  But anything else, just give us a call.”  They left.


A.I. put Don’s cards in his top drawer, saying softly, “You never know when they may come in handy.”


Two weeks later, I was assigned to Pennally Multigastic Dithometers Inc., a mid-tech company.  The founder and CEO was an entrepreneur of boundless energy.  He returned from lunch with—you guessed it—Don and Pancho.  It was clear that they’d been massaging each other—stroking egos and locating pressure points.  I caught some familiar remarks as they passed.


“We’re always looking to help the small businessman.  We love small businessmen; they provide jobs and stability.”


“That’s true, but we’re under constant pressure.  Everybody has their hand out.  If it’s not the taxman, big companies are trying to ace us out.  We need all the help we can get.”


Pancho replied, “Don here is the man to help you.  Help keep him in office.  He has friends in Washington.  But campaigns cost money.”


“What legislation have you sponsored lately?”


Don sidled up closer to Mr. Entrepreneur.  “It’s my style to work quietly behind the scenes.  I don’t sponsor much, but I’ve influenced some pret-t-ty significant legislation.  Pancho will send you information on our track record supporting the small businessman.”


It was at that moment that Don spied me and turning to Mr. Entrepreneur, “Looks like your bookkeeper over there is working pretty hard.”


“Oh, he’s an accountant from my CPA firm working on the annual audit.”


Don walked over, handed me a card and automatically engaged in the same tired routine that I’d heard in Mr. Ptolemy’s store.


Another election year has descended upon us.  Political stablehands are being actively recruited and employed to spread the requisite rhetoric manure piles, hoping their candidate’s popularity base will grow. 


And, even with the high cost of politics and gasoline, the Don and Donna Ridiculosos and Pancho and Pancha Vanillas are doing their best to leave little piles of the stuff with as many people as possible.  God, I love election years!