More Presidential Abuse

Sunday, April 02, 2006
"How can we reach our president with advice? He is ignorant, self-willed, and is surrounded by men, some of whom are almost as ignorant as himself.

"So we have the dilemma put to us. What to do when his power must continue for two years longer and when the existence of our country may be endangered before he can be replaced by a man of sense. How hard, in order to save the country, to sustain a man who is incompetent."

Written by a former Secretary of the Navy, no less. Will this ever stop?


Skookumchuk said...

Yeah, always helps to be on the right side of history.

CF said...

Very good catch, Rick..

Knucklehead said...

It will never stop. Those who do not have to make the tough decisions will always villify the decisions made and the price paid. And those making the decisions will always make imperfect ones.

It started with George Washington before we were a nation. There was a point in the revolution when colonists were joining the British in greater numbers than they were joining the "insurgency". It has continued without respite through the most dire times we've faced.

And not only do those who have to find ways to deal with the troubles of the here and not face relentless villification but the enemies we face are given every positive consideration. George III had no shortage of defenders in the colonies. The south of the civil war had legions of those who thought just like McClellan. (Heck, there's even been some attempts to rehabillitate the McClellanites over the years.) FDR had his fair share of detractors even AFTER Pearl Harbor. Same for Wilson.

History has never declared any of them flawless in either plan or execution.

PDS said...

I have been reading alot about Lincoln lately, and find the parallels between he and Bush most striking, except (among other ways) in one crucial respect: their respect for language. If Bush had even 60% of Lincoln's facility with words, his problems would be so less troublesome. And I am not talking about giving a good speech either--this relates more to a respect for the capacity of words to unify the citizens.

Rick Ballard said...


I believe that you have identified the core of the literate public's problem with Bush and communication. Lincoln knew the KJV and its stories as well as did Melville, Whitman or Faulkner. All of them possesed the ability to evoke emotion through the use of known and understood rhythms and imagery. That knowledge of Elizabethan English also allowed Lincoln to interject Shakespearean themes which resonated within his time. Bush was apparently raised on the flat language of the NIV and his grasp of the language as an instrument reflects the lack of exposure to English as an instrument. His speech writers have a decent grasp of the potential to evoke but he has never demonstrated that grasp in daily speech.


No, it will not stop. Even worse, Bush lacks Lincoln's mandate from Congress to jail Copperheads as he sees fit. Lincoln would have put Feingold and a few others away for the duration some time ago. I didn't realize til this morning that the quotation cited must have occured in '62 - at a time that the issue was gravely in doubt. Ah well, the Copperheads were cowards then and they are cowards today - little has changed. Same party, too.

PDS said...

Rick: as a student of the game, you may be interested in Gary Wills' "Lincoln at Gettysberg: The Words That Remade America." Notwithstanding Wills' general status as a intellectual clown, this is one of the best Lincoln books I have read.

Barry Dauphin said...

Bush often seems clumsy when speaking off the cuff, but that might resonate more than we think with those who are less enamored with educated, "fancy" talk.

Also, once upon a time something such as the KJV was a culturally unifying kind of text. There are fewer or less powerful texts of any sort that represent "common" knowledge. I think that certain actions or images can serve such a function these days, but I wonder if there is anyone around that could hold people together primarily on the basis of rhetoric.

Rick Ballard said...


I would argue that there are no current texts that are as unifying as the KJV. I recognize that the KJV is not optimal - I just had a rather spirited discussion with my wife over her selection of the KJV as the proper Bible to give to our nine year old granddaughter as a "first" Bible on the basis that 'She won't be able to understand it.' I lost, of course.

The NIV doesn't cut it and there is nothing currently on offer that is unifying in any sense. This is the main problem with Truepeers assertions - i understand (somewhat) the assertion but it lacks both mythos and a language level that is communicable.

Orson Scott Card is the only author who comes readily to mind when I think of ability to ennunciate a common modern viewpoint and I don't really subscribe to the model presented.

I return to 'Has the distance grown so vast that we cannot sing the songs of yesteryear?'. And I simply don't know the answer.

Knucklehead said...

Let's not forget the nature of the audience of Lincoln's day. Public communication, as well as any formalized private communications and even much intimate personal communication) was carried out by the written word. People didn't watch speeches on TV or hear them on the radio. They read them or had them read to them.

It was not Lincoln's oratory from Gettysburg that resounded throughout the land but, rather, people reading the words.

We no longer have a culture of reading and writing to one another. I wonder if the days of rousing oratory are not long behind us - lost to the TV age.

Here's a small challenge. Read a speech each from Bush and Blair. Force yourself to divest your internal mimic of the Texas drawl and British accent. Is Blair's rhetoric really superior to Bush's? Or is the admiration Blair's speaking skills receive from the American audience a function merely of the his British dialect? Would Blair's speaking skills have been nearly as admired by Americans if he had some ordinary US accent? Layer a "cultured" British accent over top of one of Bush's better speeches and ponder whether they might have been more admired by Americans?

Which is all to say that I think we, the audience, are as much the problem as Bush or any other politician's speaking skills are concerned. Of all the candidates since Reagan name one who was a legitmately good speaker. Clinton is considered by many a good speaker but, in all honesty, that lip-biting make the girls swoon style is not likely to work for many politicians.

The general public is, I assert, nearly impossible to legitmately arouse through oratory anymore. Those of us who admire the great speeches of the past are admiring the words, complete with historical context, rather than the speakers.

PDS said...


Now that was well put.

In the case of Lincoln, however, we are also admiring the speaker, even if it is the mythological Lincoln, rather than the real one.

Barry Dauphin said...

Of course, we are talking about a particular function for this rhetoric to serve, namely the ability to pull people together during times of strife and during times of volatile (even incendiary) differences of opinion. I'm at a loss for who could do that these days.

When FDR gave fireside chats, how many Nazis were welcome as students at Yale? How good would one's rhetoric have to be to bridge that gap? Bush actually attended Yale, but even if he walked on water and gave the Sermon on the Mount, how effectively could he speak to both the Yale adminstration and red staters?

Lincoln's rhetoric helped hold the North together not the North and the South. It took war to do that. It's an interesting question as to how much some disagree with the Adminstration and how much some are on the other side.

Knucklehead said...


I think I misstated what I meant about admiring the words rather than the speaker...

It isn't that we don't admire Lincloln but, rather, that we never heard him speak. Relatively few people did - certainly nowhere near the number of voters who participated in elections. So when people of the time were responding to the words on paper - not the presentation or any possible munging of words or quirks of voice or odd movements or whatever.

When we of today read the Gettysburg Address (and other of Lincoln's speeches) we have the full historic context - we admire the speech. Probably no more than a few hundred or so people who were present for the speech could actually hear Lincoln. When those of us who admire such oratory read it we layer on top of our reading a very rich context that is much different than the context of the time.

No doubt that muddied everything ;)