Presented by Charter Communications: Immigration Facts; Recessions; Quote of the Week
Hello, it’s Friday, July 19, 2019, the day of the week when I pass along a quotation intended to be uplifting or thought-provoking. Today’s is inspired by the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta that coronated Michael Dukakis as the party’s presidential standard-bearer. That event is remembered in political circles for two speeches, neither of which was delivered by the nominee. The first came on the convention’s opening night, July 18, 1988. The second one came on the last night of the three-day convention.
The latter speech was an 18-page, 4,000-word snoozer delivered by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. I mention the length because it’s the only noteworthy feature. Clinton droned on so long and tediously that he received a sarcastic burst of applause from the floor when, near the end, he finally said, “In closing…”
Although the Los Angeles Times dubbed it “The Speech That Ate Atlanta,” it hardly consumed Bill Clinton’s political career. He was exonerated four years later when many of those same delegates cheered for him wildly in New York.
There was a Democrat who took the ’88 convention by storm, however, and it was keynote speaker Ann Richards, the charismatic treasurer of Texas (who would become governor in 1991). Richards was acquainted with the Bush family and put her knowledge to good use with a zinger simultaneously needling Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush for his family wealth and his propensity for the verbal miscues.
“Poor George,” she deadpanned. “He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
That line is not this week’s featured quote, however. I’ll provide that in a moment -- after pointing you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
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Five Facts: Chilling Trends in Illegal Immigration. In RealClearPolicy, No Labels lays out the stats.
We Need to Fight Governments That “Fight” Recessions. In RealClearMarkets, Christopher Baecker takes a dim view of efforts to stave off natural economic cycles.
Two Moon Landing Speeches, Given and Ungiven, a Decade Apart. In RealClearHistory, Howard Tanzman revisits the words written for John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
The Whiskey Rebellion Tour. In RealClearLife, Kirk Miller highlights a mid-Atlantic distillery circuit that mixes libations with lessons about little-known players who shaped early American history.
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In between Bill Clinton’s dreary effort at the Democrats’ Atlanta convention and Ann Richards’ well-received keynote address three nights earlier came a highly partisan stemwinder by another Texan, progressive firebrand Jim Hightower.
Hightower’s speech, delivered 31 years ago tonight, ran the emotional gamut from nasty to semi-nasty. Yet, it included one fairly brilliant insult. Riffing off Gov. Richards’ barb about George H.W. Bush’s inherited fortune, Hightower quipped: “He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”
If we’re keeping score, Vice President Bush didn’t have to wait nearly as long as Bill Clinton for revenge. Four months later, he beat the Democratic ticket handily and became the 41st U.S. president. But Jim Hightower’s famous insult has endured. It also has an interesting provenance.
For starters, this witticism wasn’t original to Hightower -- or even to Texas. Oklahoma Sooners football coach Barry Switzer was quoting using this line in the 1980s, although not about George Bush. And a variation of this sentiment dates at least to the Great Depression when a similar aphorism began showing up in American newspapers.
One version appeared in the Sept. 17, 1935 edition of the Ironwood Daily Globe, a newspaper in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (a paper that still exists). Taking aim at Franklin Roosevelt’s economic advisers known as the Brain Trust, the paper said that “the professors and others so influential in framing national legislation are mostly men who were born on third base, and the burdens they are putting upon the people are borne by those of us who were born at bat with two strikes on us.”
The year before, the Hammond Times, a small Indiana paper, published a similar-sounding adage: “A genius is one who seems a wonder because he was born on third base.”
Was that line, which appeared one day after May Day 1934 in another Great Lakes town, the Depression-era rebuke of the rich from a working stiff with possible socialist sympathies? Or was it, like the barb in the Michigan newspaper, a dig at the Ivy League elites micro-managing the economy from Washington, D.C., without making things appreciably better?
That’s the beauty of it: The maxim works either way -- and it’s your quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics