Bryan Caplan  

Precogs at the Onion

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Whatever Happened to Gridlock?... The Tallest Pygmy...
No joke - The Onion really did run this story for Bush's first inauguration:

Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."
In retrospect, it's hard not to see Clinton as a latter-day Warren Harding who delivered a "return to normalcy" after the end of the Cold War.  But Harding's rhetoric was far better:

There isn't anything the matter with world civilization, except that humanity is viewing it through a vision impaired in a cataclysmal war. Poise has been disturbed, and nerves have been racked, and fever has rendered men irrational; sometimes there have been draughts upon the dangerous cup of barbarity, and men have wandered far from safe paths, but the human procession still marches in the right direction.

America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

Wow.  I can't bear to listen to any modern politician for more than twenty seconds.  But if you just cut Harding's last clause about "triumphant nationality," I would have been happy to deliver this section of his speech myself. 

P.S. Can you believe the American people elected a president who publicly used words like "equipoise"?



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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Leigh Caldwell writes:

You never know, they might be about to elect another.

Surprisingly enough the last person to use it publicly was a Bush appointee, John Bolton:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/27/washington/27prexy.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

[URL edited because it was originally to a personal NYTimes account that required a login. We've substituted the standard NYTimes permanant link.--Econlib Ed.]

Publius writes:

Celebrating Warren Harding as the 'good old days?' Yeesh.

Gary Rogers writes:

Don't be too quick to throw out "triumphant nationality." Can you imagine any leader trying to lead without some form of this phrase? Leaders find ways to bring people together to do great things. That does not necessarily mean we are going to conquer other countries, rather, it means we are going to work together as a nation to triumph over any obstacles that come our way. I suggest that we have a vacuum of leadership as a direct result of candidates and intellectuals continually attacking phrases like this. We need to use them more.

The formula for winning elections is to keep all proposals vague so your opponent cannot tear them apart while making it clear that you have clear plans and are going to make important changes that will make voter's lives better. At the same time you attack your opponent's proposals wherever possible and villianize him or her as much as possible. If you can use an emergency to convince the voters that you have a plan to solve it, all the better. Obama's whole message is that McCain is like Bush, Bush is terrible and we cannot afford four more years of Bush. He then talks generally about cutting taxes for 95% of the voters without getting specific enough to allow McCain's redistribution of wealth accusations to stick.

I think that what we want is stability and continuous improvement in our government, but we fall into the trap of voting for change just because we are not satisfied. We become like the sports team that fires its coach every season because they do not have a winning season but the team continues to get worse because they cannot maintain any consistency. Corporations also fall into this trap when they go through one CEO after another trying to build a profitable organization. Unfortunately, this leads to a downward spiral unless a true leader is found. One that I would expect to use some form of "triumphant nationality" to bring us together and demonstrate that hard work and sacrifice are what make us successful, not reliance on government.

Derek Christiansen writes:

I thought you were smarter than that, Bryan.

But I guess the "no mental illness" argument
is indicative of the depth of your thought,
or this entire post is a joke that I am missing
somehow.

Just how it's funny is beyond me.

Our government is broken now and was then. The
savage carnage visited upon pension plans, hopes,
dreams and lives by the current crisis has no
humor at all...barring schadenfeude and the shame
is built into that feeling.

On the deaths of my friends and coworkers in
9-11 it is quite clear that was a pot left to
boil as "Mr. Prosperity" was getting his joint
worked and pardoning criminal political donors
to his wife's nascent senatorial campaign.

Bush has done a lot to bring shame to our nation
via torture and detention and I am deeply appalled
by Cheney and the management of our war-making.
But to make fun in times of tragedy is to be
without grace.

Andrew Maier writes:

You'll find, I think, that it's often humanity's ability to laugh once in a while during harsh times that keeps us from despairing. Tragedy is sad and serious, yes, but don't be so quick to condemn efforts to highlight problems by use of humor. Sometimes it's the best tool in our arsenal to survive the rough spot and spot ways for us to change our outlook.

If the choices are to laugh or cry, it isn't disrespectful to choose the former sometimes over the latter.

parviziyi writes:

Thank you Bryan Caplan for those juicy quotes.

Steve Sailer writes:

America suffered something of a nervous breakdown from 1917 to 1920, with the War, Prohibition, Red Scares, race riots, political imprisonment (e.g., Eugene Debs), women's suffrage, a sharp depression, anti-German culturkampf, and the First Lady secretly running the Executive Branch and more. By Harding's death in 1923, most of that was over. He was one helluva President.

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