January 19 - January 25, 1995


His Royal Redneck

By Jeff Smith

FIRST IMPRESSIONS being lasting impressions, it's difficult for most of us to accept the fact that J. Piccolo Peckerhead III, a.k.a. J. Fife Whiteguy, a.k.a. Gov. J. Fife Symington III, in all his albino, whiter-than-thou chief-executiveness, is a redneck.

Then there's the name: rednecks generally go by Billy Joe Bob or Booger. Certainly not Fife, especially not preceded by an initial. There are beaucoup bubbas with the name of Junior, but nary a one named III.

And the patrician manner: Fife comports himself as though some invisible TelePrompter were scrolling Amy Vanderbilt dicta before his browless eyes. He has that tentative, half-step behind pace of action that speaks of one whose lackeys precede him, treading his path like mine-sweepers, opening doors, remembering names and giving his greetings by proxy. It's this imperial executive style of functioning through underlings that caused me to doubt the rumors that Fife was diddling a certain sultry beauty from his campaign and then administrative staff.

I can picture him detailing the job to a staff member--no pun intended--but, nah. Just funning.

What I've never been able to picture is Fife Symington as a man of passion, especially of passionate convictions and especially the redneck sort of conviction that gives rise to rebel yells, raised fists (full of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans) and rise again, as in The South Shall. The man always struck me as too bloodless to raise much of anything requiring concentrated sanguinity, a red neck included.

But that was before I heard what he had to say in his second inaugural and subsequent state of the state address. Drunk, perhaps, on the heady wine of a Republican landslide and the ascendancy of Newt Gingrich of Georgia, Symington gave his impression of an antebellum southern redneck, talking states' rights in terms not heard since before The War of Northern Aggression, and shouting the battle cry of rebellion--rebellion against the federal government, rebellion against bureaucracy, rebellion against the environment, against the poor, against anything and anyone who might give the white, male, capitalist ruling class a guilty conscience.

If it weren't so scary it would be hilarious to hear a man like Fife Symington invoking the anger and emotion of the rebellious spirit. He is, root and branch, of the class that historically and always stands in opposition to rebellion, because his class always has what the have-nots rebel in hopes of gaining. His class has money and position and, whether they are in the political majority for the moment or not, power and influence. In the case of J. Fife and his country club cronies it's just a question of whether they have a lot of power and influence...or a lot more.

They are never without their entrée to the seats of power, never without access to the ears of those in charge.

But then again, they are never without greed for all they can get and then some. So with both houses of Congress in their control, and most of the state executive offices, guys like Fife are jumping to the microphones all across America and shouting their gospel of a new, white American revolution. From the lips of one like Symington it comes across as off-key and as weird as Lute Olson singing rap. (Remember the post-Final Four performance of the Kerr-Elliot era? I'm trying to forget it, too.)

I've said before (and will have plenty of future opportunities to reiterate) that Fife Symington is a liar, a fool and a hypocrite. And if you'd like a second opinion, he's arrogant, too. Which is why he did next to nothing to temper his notable faults during his first term as governor, even when public confidence in him was at its lowest.

Now, reelected on the coattails of a Republican sweep nationwide, we can look forward to even greater foolishness. Whatever leavening influence the demands of wooing the electorate may have exerted are gone a-glimmering. Fife thinks he can walk on water, and I only hope he makes it out to the deep end before reality catches up with him.

He's talking open revolt against unfunded federal mandates. Ignoring the Endangered Species Act, forgetting clean-air standards, taking away the statutory powers of other elected officials who disagree with him (Attorney General Grant Woods) and even overturning campaign reform laws that were passed by a two-thirds majority of the voters of Arizona...after the electorate itself placed the issue on the ballot.

He plans to resurrect the "takings law" even if he must impose it by executive order. Never mind that a majority of the voters rejected Prop 300 in the same election that kept Symington in office.

And he's blandly asserted that state campaign finance laws should be rewritten to remove any limits on personal contributions. All that's needed to assure fair and honest campaigning and elections, Fife says, is "full and immediate disclosure."

Never mind that full and immediate disclosure is now and has for years been the law, at least part of it. But the public knows, and clearly stated in 1986, that simply knowing who bought the office for which bought-and-paid-for candidate is nowhere near enough to keep the process clean. The corrosive influences of money, and the sheer, arrogant power of overwhelming wealth, turns democracy into plutocracy, and makes incumbency an almost-insurmountable barrier to new blood and constructive change in government.

The fact that Symington is pretty plainly stating he does not give a rat's ass what you and I and even 51 percent of everybody else believes or desires should come as no surprise. He never has cared because he's never had any reason to. He damn sure wasn't tutored in compassion for the common man, growing up as rich and pampered as he was. And he damn sure didn't learn it in business, clever as his lawyers and fellow S&L board members were at extracting tax breaks and low-interest, unsecured loans. And he damn sure didn't grow any more compassionate--or honest--in office, where he obviously decided that situational political ethics permitted him to lie and dissemble about his opponents, and to pretend to be all manner of things he is not.

That's the bad news. The good news is now that Fife Symington feels he has nothing but green lights, no speed limits, and not a cop who can touch him, we are going to be treated to the full, uncut, unexpurgated, X-rated rise and fall of the Fife empire.

Remember: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts like battery acid on an albino's butt.

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January 19 - January 25, 1995

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