August 30, 2008
You know, I'm beginning to think that the history of American presidential elections might be a very interesting subject indeed. Everybody knows that 2008 is a historic election year; even more so now, because at the end of it we will have either the first African American president, or the first female vice-president (not counting Glenn Close, of course). Fewer people realize that this will be the first election to see a senator ascend directly to the presidency since JFK in 1960 . . . but I've seen it mentioned here and there.
What I haven't seen anyone talk about was a discovery I made last night, as I contemplated the difficulty of knowing exactly how either candidate might handle himself in the White House. In the last 56 years, there has not been a presidential election where the public could not simply cast their vote either for or against the policies and accomplishments of the previous administration. Every election since 1952 has involved either a president up for re-election, or that president's vice-president. Check out this blurb about the '52 election and see if it sounds familiar (yes, it's paraphrased from Wikipedia):
National tension and weariness after two years of bloody stalemate in the Korean War set the stage for a hotly-fought presidential contest. The Democratic Party nominated Governor Adlai Stevenson II of Illinois; Stevenson had gained a reputation in Illinois as an intellectual and eloquent orator. The Republican Party countered with popular war hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Of course, there are a lot of interesting differences. This was at a time when "war hero" meant World War II, in those heady, patriotic days before Vietnam. Then, too, it was the Democrats who were the unpopular incumbent party, coming off of 20 years in power with Harry Truman at a record-high 66% disapproval rating (later surpassed by Nixon and Bush II).
During the campaign, Stevenson ran on a contrast between America under Herbert Hoover and the Republicans at the height of the depression and America under the Democrats at the beginning of the prosperous 1950s. His speaking style was eloquent and thoughtful, but he was branded an "egghead" and an intellectual . . . not the best label at the height of McCarthyism. Ike, meanwhile, chickened out and embraced McCarthy publicly, though he loathed the man and his tactics in private. His campaign blamed the Democrats for the trouble in Korea, and for the encroaching malaise of global Communism.
The Republicans hit a portentuous snag when Eisenhower's running mate, Richard Nixon, was accused of accepting large, undeclared gifts from donors after he had accused the Democrats of similar ethical lapses. Ike nearly dropped him from the ticket, until Nixon gave a stirring TV address that came to be known as the "Checkers" speech (see below, particularly from about 6:06 to 7:23 . . . it's crackerjack).
Anyway, I'm about to hit a tangent in earnest and be researching and writing for hours, so I'll just stop there. The point is . . . pay attention. This is going to be unique.
August 21, 2008
August 19, 2008
Thunderbolts, Saints, and Blue Tigers
So it is also, of course, with the contradictory charges of the anti-Christians about submission and slaughter. It is true that the church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the church preferred to use its Super-men and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side [...] the paradox of the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is: Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.
-- G.K. Chesterton (from "The Paradoxes of Christianity" in Orthodoxy)
Silly examples are always simpler; let us suppose a man wanted a particular kind of world; say, a blue world. He would have no cause to complain of the slightness or swiftness of his task; he might toil for a long time at the transformation; he could work away (in every sense) until all was blue. He could have heroic adventures; the putting of the last touches to a blue tiger. He could have fairy dreams; the dawn of a blue moon. But if he worked hard, that high-minded reformer would certainly (from his own point of view) leave the world better and bluer than he found it. If he altered a blade of grass to his favourite colour every day, he would get on slowly. But if he altered his favourite colour every day, he would not get on at all. If, after reading a fresh philosopher, he started to paint everything red or yellow, his work would be thrown away: there would be nothing to show except a few blue tigers walking about, specimens of his early bad manner. This is exactly the position of the average modern thinker. It will be said that this is avowedly a preposterous example. But it is literally the fact of recent history.
-- G.K. Chesterton (from "The Eternal Revolution" in Orthodoxy)