Old Mother Hubbard and the Bonus
by Ellis Parker Butler
In the dull hour of the late afternoon Justice of the Peace Lem Hooper looked up from his newspaper and spoke to Court-officer Durfey.
"This bonus business, Durfey," he said, "reminds me of one time when I was a young fellow, just married, when I had promised to take my wife and my mother-in-law to the theatre, and when the day came all I had in my pocket was a plugged nickel and a pants' button. My heart was willing, Durfey, but the moment was inauspicious for large financial operations and all I could do was sit and sweat and think of eighty-six ways in which I could not raise the money.
"Parabolically speaking, Durfey, the gentlemen in Congress remind me of that worried old lady known to all readers of poetry as Old Mother Hubbard. You've heard of her. Her tale is one of the saddest ever printed in a book. She had a kind heart, Durfey, but she was one bone short. I'm no poet but I might put the situation like this:
Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To get her poor soldiers a bonus,
But when she got there
The cupboard was bare
And so the poor soldiers got explanations.
"That's a poor rhyme, Durfey, and even the ex-service men get no satisfaction from the old lady's attempt to rhyme 'bonus' with 'explanations.' They don't care for that kind of Free Verse, Durfey, and the old lady is in more of a flutter than if someone had mailed her an Article X in a candy box. She's afraid the lads lately in khaki will send her a rhyme like this:
Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
Because she had pledged us a bonus;
If the cupboard was bare
She had better take care
For she'll have to shoulder the onus.
"And shouldering the onus, Durfey, is one of the things Old Mother Hubbard does worst; she's a lot more handy at making promises along about election time. We all are.
"You see, Durfey, vague promises were made to the ex-service men by both parties in the Presidential campaign, but everybody forgot to look in the cupboard first. Old Mother Hubbard, down there at Washington, is eager to satisfy the boys, but there's nothing in the cupboard but a plugged nickel and a pants' button, and there's little sustenance in them. So now she's fluttering around like a duck with a broken wing trying to raise a few billions of good dollars. Thank heaven, I'm no poet, Durfey, but if I was I might put it like this:
She went to the merchants
For taxes on sales,
But all they would give her
Were outcries and wails.
She reached for the war loans
Of England and France
But Harding and Mellon
Both cried "Not a chance!"
"I'll tax excess profits!"
She cried, but she got
As her only response
A loud shout, "You will not!"
She went to the vineyards
For taxes on wine,
But the Eighteenth Amendment
Replied, "Not for mine!"
She went to the brewers
For taxes on beer,
But all she received was
A box on the ear.
"A luxury tax is
The ticket!" she said,
But they threw her downstairs
And she lit on her head.
"Let's issue some bonds!"
Was her next eager cry,
But they grabbed her and gave her
A lovely black eye.
"Won't somebody tell me,"
She wailed, "what to do?"
But the only reply was:
"Why, that's up to you."
"And there you are, Durfey! That's the unfortunate situation as she sits in the Capitol down there at Washington bathing herself with arnica and moaning in a dull voice: 'Oh! what can I tax? What can I tax?'
"It is a strange sight, Durfey, to see Congress -- for the first time in history -- afraid to pile on more taxes. One trouble seems to be that the folks back home have a notion they are being taxed a little, off and on, already. They've heard rumors to that effect. Some of them think, maybe -- when they are making out their income tax papers -- that it might be almost as well to pay the hangover bill for the war wages of the soldiers before they start giving Christmas presents. But not many say so, Durfey. They're bashful. We're a diffident nation.
"None the less, my heart bleeds for Old Mother Hubbard, Durfey. It is a cruel thing to have elections coming along no later than next November, with new promises to be made, when you can't raise money to keep your old promises. It is the sort of thing that drives our politicians into their graves at the untimely ages of ninety or ninety-five.
"The world is sadly changed, Durfey. There was a time when the politician's life was as glad as Pollyanna's. Those were the days when a promise to dredge Mill Creek, Kansas, to a depth sufficient to float a transatlantic steamer, or to build a hundred-thousand-dollar post office at Sand Hill Junction, Nevada, meant nothing but a joyous tariff-raising bee with, all hands gaily boosting the good old ad valorem another ten per cent, and everybody was happy. When a people balks at paying a few billions of dollars that were actually promised somebody in a speech from the stage of Hickey's Opera House in the middle of a Presidential campaign things have come to a pretty pass! It is hardly worth while being a politician any more, Durfey, money is so scarce."
"But what do you think will be done about it, judge?" Durfey asked. "Will Congress rig up some sort of tax or will the bonus have to wait?"
"Well, now, Durfey," said Judge Hooper, "you need not worry about that. You can trust Old Mother Hubbard to do what she thinks is best for the nation."
"And what is that, judge?" asked Durfey.
"Whatever will hold the most votes," said Judge Hooper with a grin.