OAKLANDCOUNTYEXECUTIVE L. Brooks Patterson has long been sort of the class clown of Republican politics. Once, to make fun of now-state Rep. Tom McMillin’s notorious obsession with gays, Patterson walked over and kissed him — on the mouth.
He also loves Hitler jokes and references, and is even capable of putting himself down. Thirty-one years ago, the GOP pushed Brooks into making a hopeless run against Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley. “Where will you be tonight?” he was asked on Election Day by a reporter (me), who would need a quote later. “Down in the bunker with Eva Braun,” Patterson cracked.
Then last week, Brooks caused a sensation by apparently comparing his fellow Republican, Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, to Adolf Hitler. “Adolf Bolger, you mean?” he said on Off the Record, the Michigan public television show.
Never one to be subtle, Patterson then pulled out a pocket comb and held it up to his mouth, in imitation of the famous mustache. This caused an uproar of indignation.
How dare Brooks Patterson hint that the House speaker was like the man who killed millions of Jews in the death camps! How terrible! How tasteless! By the end of the day, even Brooks had retreated, or re-tweeted, issuing an apology of sorts. “I alienated some [in the Jewish community] … to those offended, I apologize,” chirped Brooks, or more likely someone who manages his Twitter account for him.
What was lost in all the faux-righteous indignation was that L. Brooks Patterson, a man nobody would call a liberal, nevertheless had a good and very valid point. You can perhaps make the case that any Hitler reference is over the top.
Nor am I insensitive to Holocaust references; the Jewish holidays are celebrated in my house. But Hitler and the Nazis did considerably more than exterminate minorities.
They crushed any dissent, were not interested in compromise, and snuffed out and silenced all opposition.
That was the way in which Brooks was clumsily comparing Bolger to the ultimate bad guy. Here is the full version of what he actually said: “Adolf Bolger, you mean?
“He’s really become very arrogant and he’s throwing his weight around up there, and I think he’s embarrassing himself,” Patterson said. “He better learn to control his temper, he better learn how to work with the consensus within his own party.
“I think sometimes Adolf steps a little bit to the fringe, and he’s embarrassing himself.”
Now ask yourself: What’s wrong or inaccurate about that? Absolutely nothing. Bolger is, in fact, an arrogant jerk who, a few days ago, in a little partisan snit, temporarily deprived eight minority Democrats of their committee assignments.
He did that because the Democratic leader, Tim Griemel of Auburn Hills, complained that the Speaker should do something about lazy House Republicans who left a committee meeting that was hearing arguments against proposed changes to Michigan’s no-fault insurance law.
Bolger did nothing to them. Instead, he vindictively punished Democrats for daring to criticize Republicans or suggest what he, the Great Speaker, should do. What isn’t clear, by the way, is how long Bolger will hang on to his job — or even if he can eventually avoid prison.
Last year, he was caught in a vote-rigging scheme that was meant to defraud Democratic voters in a House race in Ann Arbor. He and his colleague, Roy Schmidt, were exposed.
Schmidt was overwhelmingly defeated. Bolger barely hung on to his seat, but is now the subject of an investigation by a one-woman grand jury, Ingham Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina. None of this, however, seems to have given him the slightest amount of humility. Last year he gleefully led the charge to ram right-to-work legislation through in a day.
He was heavily criticized for refusing to allow votes on whether to give bills immediate effect, even when it was clear Democrats had enough support to prevail.
In short, there is very little collegiality and cooperation in the House. Patterson is, in fact, living proof of this. He’s been in elective office since Bolger was in diapers.
He was first elected prosecutor after he won public notice as the noisy attorney for NAG, a group of Pontiac-era parents and others determined to stop cross-district school busing.
A happily partisan Republican, Patterson spent years gleefully bashing Detroit in general, and the late Mayor Coleman Young in particular. He probably couldn’t care less what Bolger does to House Democrats. But he does care about something.
Gov. Rick Snyder, with Bolger’s enthusiastic help, is trying to ram a new bill through the Legislature that would cut off benefits to victims of catastrophic auto accidents after they run up a million bucks in medical expenses.
This is a bill designed to make already rich insurance companies far richer. But Patterson knows someone who was in such an accident: himself. He was nearly killed last August when someone T-boned his car; neither he nor his driver were wearing seat belts. Brooks was in a coma for days.
His driver is a quadriplegic and will require care for the rest of his life. Patterson thinks the governor’s proposal is crazy and inhuman. Last week, he sent a staff member to Lansing to testify, on his behalf, to a committee considering this bill.
But Bolger, who presumably wanted only to stick to the insurance companies’ — oops — governor’s agenda, wouldn’t let Brooks Patterson’s staff member testify — hence his outrage.
What’s sad is that by invoking Hitler, Patterson set off a hypocritical outcry that distracted people from the real issue.
Hypocritical, because I have been in very few offices where somebody, usually the boss, wasn’t referred to by somebody as a “little Hitler.”
If Patterson is evil for calling Bolger Adolf, what are we to say of Seinfeld, inventor of the Soup Nazi?
Looked at another way, if Snyder and Bolger get their way, anybody who is terribly injured in a car accident and is not a multimillionaire soon will be reduced to trying to survive on Medicaid after no more than a few weeks of intensive care.
Government of, for, and by the big insurance companies: If you are more worried about politicians calling somebody “Adolf” than this, you have an interesting set of priorities.
Coming Out and Courage
I HAVE TO admit that I was less than impressed with all the fuss made over major league basketball player Jason Collins’ declaration last month that he is gay. Frankly, I wondered if he was coming out as a career move. Collins, never a superstar, seems to be close to the end of his active career. In fact, he’s a free agent without a team.
With the nation on the brink of accepting same-sex marriage, I had to wonder, does anyone even care anymore? Aren’t we past all that? Then last week, we were treated to the spectacle of Niall Ferguson, an economist and a Harvard professor, saying Keynesian economics are fatally flawed.
Why? Because, he reasoned, Keynes was gay and didn’t have children, and so didn’t care about future generations.
Which decisively proves the non-Keynesian theory that there are still ignorant bigoted jerks at every level of society. So Jason Collins does indeed deserve some admiration for bravery. And I suspect he does care about future generations.
After all, they’ll be needed to fund his NBA pension.
Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.