2018: 2010 Redux? GOP's Love Triangle; New Iran Sanctions; 'Show Me' Statements

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Good morning. It’s Friday, August 10, 2018. On this date in 1821, Missouri became the 24th state in the Union. It wasn’t yet called the Show Me State -- an unofficial moniker we’ll explore later -- and its admission was tied to the politics of slavery. It took the “Missouri Compromise of 1820” to seal the deal, with Maine being paired as the “free” state to counterbalance Missouri.

That larger drama would unfold over time as tragedy, and its pain is playing out still.

The “Gateway to the West,” as it was known, wasn’t in the Midwest then; Missouri wasn’t in the middle of anything. It was the nation’s frontier and remained the westernmost state in the country until 1845 when Texas was admitted to the U.S. (or annexed from Mexico, depending on your politics).

Missourians themselves had a rough-and-tumble reputation for most of the 19th century. Also, they were known as people who preferred straight talk, which was the calling card of native son Harry Truman. Another Missouri eminence, Mark Twain, put it this way in an 1881 speech: “I am a border ruffian from the State of Missouri. I am a Connecticut Yankee by adoption. In me you have Missouri morals, Connecticut culture; this, gentlemen, is the combination which makes the perfect man.”

That’s clever, but it wasn’t Twain who coined the phrase “show me” to describe Missourians’ skeptical natures and suspicions of people who bluster. So, who was it? I’ll have the answer in a moment. First, I’d direct you to RealClearPolitics' front page, which aggregates stories and columns from across the political spectrum. I'd also point you to a complement of original material from our reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * *

Are Trump Voters the Fizzled “Obama Coalition” of 2018? Sally Persons examines signs indicating that GOP midterm turnout could mirror that of Democrats in their disastrous 2010 elections.

Jordan, McCarthy & Trump: A Love Triangle. A.B. Stoddard weighs in on the potential speaker’s race and the consequences it could have for Republicans’ chances of holding the House majority.

Iran Sanctions Won’t Do What Trump Wants Them to Do. Ivan Eland explains in RealClearWorld.

Is the Pentagon About to Hand Iran a Major Border Crossing? In RealClearDefense, Alexandra N. Gutowski questions strategic moves in the war against ISIS.

Global Market Signals Reject Notion of “Economic Boom.” In RealClearMarkets, Jeffrey Snider throws cold water on forecasts.

To Learn How to Govern, Go Home Again. In RealClearPolicy, Andy Smarick urges those aspiring to influence public life to seek governing experience at state and local levels.

To Reorganize Government Agencies, Trump Should Channel Truman. Also in RCPolicy, James C. Capretta argues that the president's effort to reorganize federal agencies would benefit from a glance at history.

Four Animal Diseases Deadlier Than Ebola. RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy has the details.

10 Places That Should Join the U.S. In RealClearHistory, Brandon Christensen suggests that such diverse locales as Cuba, England and the Marshall Islands would benefit from joining the Union.

* * *

Harry Truman was the first (and only) U.S. president from Missouri, but the Democrats came close to installing another Missourian in the White House more than three decades before Truman arrived. The almost-president is nearly forgotten now. He was U.S. House Speaker James Beauchamp Clark. “Champ” Clark, as he was known, went to the 1912 Democratic convention in Baltimore as the frontrunner for his party’s nomination.

On the first ballot, Clark led decisively over the second choice, New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson, but with seven other also-rans in the race, Clark was denied the requisite two-thirds majority. In the heat of the June 25-July 2 convention -- and I mean that literally, as it predated air-conditioning -- tempers grew short, and Clark’s camp began making deals. On the 13th ballot, the Missourians had 545 of the 726 votes they needed. Attempting to stampede the convention, they courted New York’s political bosses, gaining a promise of 90 votes.

Instead of putting them over the top, this deal galvanized a backlash led by William Jennings Bryan. He and his Nebraska delegation had supported Champ Clark on the first ballot. But refusing to be on the same side as the Tammany Hall machine, Bryan withdrew his support and gradually things swung toward Wilson, who won on the 46th ballot.

I wouldn’t be mentioning all this except for one thing. It was during that 1912 presidential campaign that Champ Clark used the “show me” line, the first time it was heard popularly. But did Clark coin it? He candidly said he didn’t, giving credit to a previous member of his state’s congressional delegation, Rep. Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the House from 1897 to 1903.

Curious newspaper reporters tracked Vandiver down at the time, and he always said that he’d used the phrase in a speech more than a dozen years before, adding candidly that he had no idea if others had used it previously. As late as 1921 -- the year Champ Clark died -- Vandiver retold his story to a St. Louis newspaper in an account so detailed and quirky that it rings true, even a century later.

It seems that in 1899, while serving on the House Naval Affairs Committee, Vandiver and former Iowa Gov. John A.T. Hull were invited to a banquet at the Five O’Clock Club in Philadelphia. Shipping magnates were present, along with members of the Navy brass. It turned into a roast of sorts, and it also became apparent that Vandiver and Hull had been invited at the last minute. The upshot was that Hull knew to arrive in formal dress, as any good Republican would, and Vandiver did not. Vandiver’s embarrassment was compounded when the toastmaster introduced him -- and called for a speech.

He didn’t hesitate. “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me,” he said. “I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

Eventually the phrase caught on, and it didn’t hurt that Vandiver, who later became a judge, bore a striking physical resemblance to Mark Twain. But hold on a minute.

In late November of 1921, a letter writer to the now long-defunct St. Louis Star wrote a letter disputing Vandiver’s originality. The author of this letter was a well-connected former Missouri newspaperman and later government official named William M. Ledbetter. “I had occasion to run down this matter,” he said of his time years before serving as editor of the St. Louis Republic. “Judge Vandiver says he first used the expression about 20 years ago. At that time, it was widely current in Missouri and throughout the West and did not originate in Missouri at all.”

Ledbetter went on to claim that while in Colorado on assignment from the Kansas City Star, he personally overheard a Denver hotel clerk refer disparagingly to a new bellhop: “He’s from Missouri. Some of you boys show him.”

Perhaps realizing even as he penned that tale that it was utterly unconvincing, Ledbetter added that the results of his "investigation" showed that in the mining camps in Leadville and elsewhere, greenhorn miners from Joplin, Missouri were so unfamiliar with Colorado mining techniques that as early as the 1870s, the line "That man is from Missouri, you'll have to show him" had morphed into a cliche, one later embraced by the Missourians themselves.

This seems unlikely to me. Even more improbable was the account that appeared a few months later, in the February 19, 1922 edition of the Kansas City Star. This was another letter to the editor, penned by a Texas home builder named C.M. Love. A native of Joplin himself, Love asserted that in 1896 he and three fellow Joplin men, along with two miners from Lincoln, Nebraska, were in a saloon in Cripple Creek, Colorado, when some drunk groped a woman. To this affront, the gallant and aptly named Mr. Love challenged the man. 

"In a flash, I replied, 'I'm from Missouri; you will have to show me.'"

A short fight ensured, and C.M. Love was happy to report that the bully "proved himself as lacking in strength as he was in courage and soon met his Waterloo."

An entertaining vignette, to be sure, but all I will say is that C.M. Love, if he really existed, settled in the right place, Texas being a natural gathering spot for tellers of tall tales. As for me, I'm from California, but you still have to show me. My vote is for Congressman Vandiver. 

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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