The Decline and Revival in Standards of Pompous Grandiosity

A hitherto unknown to me, but apparently famous exchange from the tense final days of the July 1914 Crisis (May, Ernest R. and Samuel R. Williamson, Jr., “An Identity of Opinion: Historians and July 1914,” The Journal of Modern History , 79, June 2007, pp. 335–387):

Famously, when Moltke protested that it was too late to concentrate forces on the Russian front rather than in the west, the kaiser exclaimed: “Your illustrious uncle would not have given me such an answer. If I order it, it must be possible.” (p. 361)

Compare this to the tepid legalism of Richard Nixon:

Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.

(interview with David Frost, aired on television on 19 May 1977)

Kaiser Wilhelm II was at least disjointed enough to think that he could mandate the possible, not merely the legal.

But thank goodness our leaders have gotten back into the business of denigrating reality in favor of will.

Happy Repeal Day

5 December 2007, Repeal Day, my liquor cabinet

Dewars Scotch has the brilliantly targeted (at me and my ilk) advertising campaign of promoting the notion of Repeal Day (Dewars | independent), celebrating the end of prohibition. That’s a holiday I can get behind!

Fittingly Franklin D. Roosevelt, the last president to have been photographed with a cocktail and a cigarette, ran on the repeal of prohibition, signed the Volstead Act legalizing the brewing of beer and presided over the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. On 5 December 1933 Utah, of all states, ratified the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution ending prohibition. Another reason that FDR is one of the best presidents in U.S. history!

It’s snowing out and the bars in D.C. all suck so I will probably be staying in, but while setting the scene for the photograph above, I happily came across a forgotten bottle of now thirteen-year-old Glenlivet single malt scotch: the kind of thing to keep you warm on a winter night. Sorry Dewars, but your promotional failed on me as I will be drinking the competition tonight.

The Southern Strategy and the Party of Torture

File under “And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, §146). Andrew Sullivan on torture and the American way (“Torture in American History,” The Daily Dish,, 30 November 2007):

It is, sadly, a simple fact that torture was once a deep part of the American way of life, inextricable from slavery and racism, for a very long time. It was worst in the South, but not unknown elsewhere – well into the twentieth century. The ease with which some in the new GOP reconcile themselves to it with respect to terror suspects, as long as it is directed at “the other,” cannot be fully understood outside this context.

Combine this with Joe Klein’s observation of just how deeply the pro-torture position has become among the Republican base (“Dialing the Republicans,” Swampland, 29 November 2007):

But there was worse to come: When John McCain started talking about torture — specifically, about waterboarding — the dials plummeted again. Lower even than for the illegal Children of God. Down to the low 20s, which, given the natural averaging of a focus group, is about as low as you can go. Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. “I don’t have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly.

It follows that the party that pursued the Southern Strategy, whose base is the South, that has such a lock there that the other party can have a serious debate about whether to even bother campaigning in the South, that this party would become the party of torture.

The American character is comprised not just of the nice parts of U.S. history, just the parts that we sift through our history and authorize for incorporation, but the entirety of our history. And in today’s Republican party some of the ugliest parts are rearing their head.