Commentary: Brooks and Adolf

May 6, 2013

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, the longtime bad boy of Michigan Republican politics, stirred things up again last Friday. Not for the first time, and probably not for the last.

If you don’t already know this, Patterson went on "Off the Record," the public affairs TV show, and referred to the Speaker of the House as “Adolf” Bolger.

There wasn’t any doubt who he meant. Brooks has never been subtle. In fact, he pulled out a pocket comb and held it up to his face in an imitation of a Hitler mustache.

That sparked a tremendous outcry. Before the day was over, the state Anti-Defamation League was denouncing Brooks Patterson for what they called trivializing the Holocaust by comparing his fellow Republican, Jase Bolger, to Adolf Hitler.

And Brooks indeed was forced to issue a tweet saying he didn’t mean to alienate the Jewish community, adding, “to those offended, I apologize.”

Well, I have what you might call a contrarian view of this incident. For one thing, it seems to me there’s a lot of pious hypocrisy here. There IS a case to be made that nobody should ever make any remark comparing any of our politicians to Hitler and Nazism, a philosophy perhaps beyond any other evil.

But in virtually every office I’ve ever known, employees have called some tyrannical boss or other a “little Hitler,” or words to that effect. They did not mean their boss was anti-Semitic. Patterson did not mean to imply that Bolger wanted to exterminate six million people.  

I want to quote exactly what he said when asked about the Speaker: “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.” And Patterson added: “He better learn how to control his temper, he better learn how to work with the consensus within his own party.”

The sad thing is that the Adolf reference turned attention away from the fact that a lot of people think there is some truth in his assessment. Bolger HAS behaved arrogantly and high-handedly, and even some in his own party are beginning to grumble.

Patterson was irate because last week, he sent a staff member to testify before a committee considering Governor Snyder’s plan to drastically limit benefits for those badly injured in catastrophic car accidents. The Oakland County Executive strongly opposes this plan, but his staffer was not allowed to testify before the House Insurance Committee voted to send it on to the floor.

Last week, in what many saw as a childish fit of temper, the Speaker deprived eight minority Democrats of their committee assignments after their party’s leader complained about Republicans who left an important committee meeting before it was over. When that began to get the Speaker bad press, the Democrats were all reinstated.

Some find Bolger’s high-handed actions especially strange, given that he is under investigation by a grand jury for his role in an election-rigging scheme that backfired.

Late last week, the governor issued a statement calling for “respect and civility” to be restored to the political process. Most thought that meant Brooks Patterson. But my guess is that it was a slap of sorts at Jase Bolger as well.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.