By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Poor Steve Holland. He must have mistaken this for a country where people read books and have walking-around sense.
Satire used to be a legitimate tool in the crusader’s box, but most citizens – senses dulled by too much television, minds atrophied by sitting on their library cards – are as humorless as stumps. Satire is dead. Just ask Randy Newman.
Mississippi’s Holland is a populist Democrat legislator, an endangered species if ever there was one. He lately proposed that the Gulf of Mexico be renamed the Gulf of America. His intention was to highlight with pointed humor the absurdity of the anti-immigration hysteria abroad in the land.
His modest proposal went virile, launching the usual volley of “Mississippi is racist” commentary from outside the state and Republican venom from within. In other words, nobody got his point or his humor.
I was hoping that an Alabama Republican senator was using the same thankless satirical technique when I read about Shadrack McGill’s comments the other day. I hoped he, like Holland, would be forced to explain that his tongue was firmly planted in his rosy cheeks.
But ol’ Shadrack was serious. He said schoolteachers should not get a pay raise, because the Bible tells us so. “It’s a biblical principle,” he said at – where else? – a prayer breakfast. “If you double a teacher’s pay, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach … It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK?”
Not OK. Teachers and police and firefighters almost always are underpaid and almost always deserve raises, and nobody had mentioned doubling Alabama teachers’ paychecks anyhow. What had been mentioned was a 2.5 percent raise for one-third of the state’s teachers with the least seniority, according to one newspaper account.
Shadrack said the 62 percent pay raise legislators gave themselves was acceptable because the $1,650 a day they now earn made politicians less susceptible to bribes. That’s probably in Shadrack’s Bible, too, but I can’t quote you scripture and verse, having read a different Bible.
You can see why I hoped Shadrack was the Steve Holland of Alabama, but now I’m being silly. Shadrack literally meant what he said. If you pay teachers well, you’ll attract the kind of riffraff who want to feed their families. Pay state legislators absurdly well and maybe, just maybe, they will refuse all bribes.
I like Steve Holland because he once came to my book signing in the Tupelo library. I like him because he knows what a book and a library are. But he’s hissing in the wind.
Whenever I’m tempted as a columnist to use satire to make a point, I remember my own failures. I once wrote a column about W using only three-word sentences because a survey had shown voters admired George Bush because he spoke in short sentences. “I like Bush. He makes sense.” Readers thought I’d had a big change of heart.
Randy Newman’s brilliant satirical song about short people actually addressed the cruelty of all discrimination. He got flak from short people.
Syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.