It doesn't pay to mess with Aunt Bessie

By By Sid Salter / syndicated columnist
April 10, 2002
Poor old "Aunt Bessie." Bless her heart. About once a week, some politician just beats her senseless. But she's a tough old gal and she gets up from the mat bloodied but unbowed.
Just who is Aunt Bessie? Aunt Bessie is that mythical figure elderly, matronly, innocent and like Blanche DuBois, dependent on the kindness of strangers who is either the beneficiary or the victim of the action or inaction of the Legislature and/or the governor.
Still don't know her? Here's an example. Sen. Yesima Crook takes the podium in defense of more funding for Medicaid: "What are you going to tell poor old Aunt Bessie when she can't pay her bills?"
Or Rep. Bigbago Wind takes the floor down the hall urging a get-tough-on-crime posture: "How are you going to explain to poor old Aunt Bessie when she's scared because there's no money to keep the burglars in prison?"
Forget about Pauline
Forget the fabled Pauline. In the course of just one legislative session, poor old Aunt Bessie has been and in no certain order, mind you subjected to the following perils:
Threatened with eviction from her nursing home bed. Like the pivotal scene in the classic Jack Nicholson film Chinatown in which Faye Dunaway is slapped a lot until she reveals that "she's my daughter, she's my sister, she's my daughter, she's my sister" Aunt Bessie is alternately told to blame her Medicaid woes on Ronnie Musgrove or the Legislature.
Given an official state toy the venerable teddy bear to comfort her when she's been tossed from the nursing home into the street with no drugs.
Faced down the ravages of (gasp!!!) Voter ID. Many in the Legislature feared that despite similar daily confrontations in grocery checkout lines and video stores, the poor thing might have a stroke if asked for identification prior to voting every two years or so.
Seen the state's legal blood alcohol content dropped to .08, which will limit her to no more than three toddies per hour if she's behind the wheel.
Been afforded the opportunity to purchase a NASCAR affinity license plate at the bargain price of an additional $35 to display on her car as she drives away from the nursing home clutching her teddy bear while in search of free drugs and trying to beat the new DUI limit.
Funny? Not really
Poor old Aunt Bessie. Funny, isn't it? Funny that while there's so much apparent concern for Aunt Bessie among the politicians that the real Aunt Bessies among us face such uncertainty.
There may be things lower and slimier than scaring old people for political gain, but I can't think of many. And the current Medicaid standoff between the Legislature and Gov. Musgrove is scaring far more than the mythical Aunt Bessies.
To be sure, "Aunt Bessie" is frightened. She's old and on a fixed income. Why shouldn't she be scared? You'd be, too.
Aunt Bessie's children are frightened as well. How do you pay for a freshman in college and a parent in a nursing home at the same time? Scared? Big time, Bubba.
You know who should be scared? Musgrove and the Legislature. If 13,000 people really are about to be tossed from the nursing homes, the Legislature will be tossed out of office next election. But if the governor is scaring old people unnecessarily to make political hay, then Aunt Bessie is going figure it out soon enough. At that point, the new state teddy bear will be Musgrove's only friend.
It doesn't pay to mess with Bess.