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PRUDEN: Ho, ho: A rally to Twinkie’s defense

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ding, dong, the Ding Dong is dead. Well, maybe. But Twinkie, the Ho Ho and Sno Ball will surely live again, likely in a right-to-work state. It's hard to imagine a plate of barbecue without the embrace of two slices of Wonder Bread to soak up the sauce.

Twinkie, a true American icon, is much maligned by nutritionists, chefs, nannies like New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and especially parents catching their kids sneaking off to the corner grocery to wolf down the spongy imperishable, which is reckoned to survive a nuclear fallout. How bad for you can a concoction of white flour, corn syrup, oil and yellow No. 5 food coloring be? Pretty bad, probably, but some people devour anchovies and liver and survive.

Twinkie, in fact, even has a special place in American jurisprudence, cited in proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court. No lettuce leaf, carrot strip or stalk of celery can make that claim.

This being America, the near-death of Twinkie naturally becomes a matter of politics. Democrats blame the company, Republicans blame the unions. (Next slur up: Twinkie is racist, since it has a white filling.) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, our stoutest national politician since William Howard Taft, is smart enough to keep his mouth shut for once. "I'm not answering questions on Twinkies," he told reporters, and was plainly irritated that someone asked the question. "It's bad that I even said the word 'Twinkies' from behind this microphone."

There's even a petition — perhaps not a serious one, but who can tell? — seeking support on the Internet to nationalize Twinkie: "We the undersigned hereby request Barack Obama to immediately nationalize the Twinkie industry and prevent our nation from losing her sweet, creamy center." If a bailout is good for General Motors, Wall Street and banks too big to fail, why not? Twinkie may be no more entitled to survival than the Pontiac, but a Twinkie still weighs in at only 150 calories.

Hostess Brands, which practically invented the cupcake, was done in by both sad-sack management and a greedy union, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. That's a mouthful as indigestible as a blob of soft, creamy, vanilla-flavored goo. A bankruptcy court in White Plains, N.Y., which had challenged Hostess and the union to try one more time to save Twinkie the Kid, King Ding Dong, Captain Cup Cake and Happy Ho Ho for the sweet dreams of youths (and a considerable number of grown-ups as well), this week gave up.

Hostess won final permission to close and liquidate 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers with 5,500 delivery routes, 570 bakery centers and 18,500 jobs. Forbes magazine observed earlier this year that Hostess "is saddled with 372 collective bargaining agreements, 80 different health and pension benefit plans and workers' compensation costs that last year hit $52 million, which works out to over $2,700 for each of its [18,500] employees."

Many Hostess employees, desperate to keep their jobs, had crossed picket lines to keep the bakeries humming. There were just not enough of them. Union officials, however, will not lose their jobs, which should console laid-off workers when baby needs a new pair of shoes.

When the assets of Hostess, believed to be worth up to $2.4 billion, are auctioned later, Twinkie is likely to survive. Recipes, like cash, are fungible. Trademarks are sellable. Bake it, and they will come.

Twinkie leaves an indelible mark on the law, having lent its name to the improbable legal defense of Dan White, a onetime cop who murdered the mayor of San Francisco and a gay city supervisor in 1979. A psychiatrist called in his defense testified that White suffered clinical depression, perhaps aggravated by eating junk food and indulging sugar highs. White's attorneys convinced the jury that their client thus suffered "diminished capacity" and was incapable of premeditated murder.

He was acquitted of murder and convicted of voluntary manslaughter, thus saved from the gas chamber. A columnist called it "the Twinkie defense." Twinkies had never been mentioned in the courtroom, but the label stuck.

A quarter of a century later, in an unrelated case, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, citing a defendant's right to an attorney of his own choosing, observed that defendants "want a lawyer who will invent the Twinkie defense." Justice Scalia, who appreciates a phrase with a warm, creamy center, thus dispatched a national icon to the archives. Yum, yum.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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