Though History does not quite repeat itself…
As the USA approached the astonishing climax of its 2016 primary presidential campaigns, I began wondering whether someone, somewhere might get killed or drop dead. I mean, I can't forget (in our internal history) that annus terribilis, 1968. Yet I was comforted a little by the new biography of Joseph Pulitzer, of whom (shame on me) I knew nothing, even that he was born Hungarian, except that the Prize is named for him. Surely he was mentioned in one of those Social Studies textbooks that in high school I merely skimmed? Surely, on the occasion of the prizes, someone had said something memorable about him? Surely, more important, someone had tried to teach me about the decades following our Civil War, about the politicians that opposed Grant's presidency? About the expectation that the Republican Party would not survive but split? Was it really a consolation that our politics had been fraught from the beginning? Rather, has our teaching of history in secondary schools always been such as apparently mine was (and I graduated, in spite of poor attendance, in the top ten of my class)? Elsewhere here I have recorded my delighted discovery in old age of the generation of Hamlin Garland. Surely, as certainly is the case with science and mathematics, today we do better? I don't think so. Maybe worse. The curricula have so much to cope with!
Anyway, as these realizations began to dawn on me, I remembered a great old popular song, with Helen Morgan as Harry James' vocalist. My mother had the record, but so have the Library of Congress's American Jukebox and, of course, YouTube. But for two weeks, though I named this Post, alluding to the song, and knew what I wanted to say, I put it off. You see, I have sworn not to take sides on the stuff that bombards us during a campaign, only to record that its takes its toll on me: I am not usually depressed.
Really, is it true that Thucydides reveals the effect of campaign speeches while democracy was still young?
Speaking of my darling Greeks, though, their rhetors made public speaking a fine art. Occasionally, one of our politicians must confess to having absorbed the principles of classical rhetoric. I confess that they make campaigns tolerable, even memorable for me. You may choose your own, but the first to affect me (since I was too young to pay such attention to FDR's) was Adlai Stevenson. Recently Barack Obama did, first in the convention speech that made him famous. And Elizabeth Warren perhaps takes the cake. It seems to take the combination of very good schools on top of native intelligence? Is it a similar congruence that made John Coltrane and Miles Davis in his prime such great jazz musicians? I mean, is that what jolted me to attention when I first heard their recordings, so that then I listened closely? Certainly it was those monaural LPs of Beethoven Lieder sung by Dietrich Fischer-Diskau that addicted me to him and to Lieder. The Attic vase paintings (though taken from Gerhard's Auserlesene Vasenbilder) that illustrated Greek myths in the Junior Classics volume?
Oh, well, maybe it's just as well that some persons have that sensibility as a compensatory gift.