Good morning, it’s Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Presidents are often accused of employing “empty rhetoric,” a charge directed at Republican presidents as well as Democrats, including the current occupant of the Oval Office. This is neither a new phenomenon nor a new criticism, however. And it’s not always because the presidents in question are empty-headed. Sometimes, practical politics requires a requisite reservoir of abstract ambiguity.
The ancillary alliteration in the previous sentences (and this one, too) was done deliberately, as I’m thinking this morning of Warren G. Harding, the 29th U.S. president, who died in San Francisco 98 years ago today. While campaigning in 1920, Harding declared the following:
“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.”
Such rhetoric strikes us today as fatuous, and comically so. (Or, in Harding-speak, as purposeless purple prose.) It struck many of his contemporaries the same way. William Gibbs McAdoo, Treasury secretary during the Wilson administration -- and a 1920 Democratic presidential candidate himself -- dismissed Harding’s speaking style as “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.”
That was a funny rejoinder, but Harding’s ornate oratory actually served a function: The last phrase in the passage above, for example, was not a throwaway line. The internationality/nationality dodge was deliberately designed to obscure Harding’s position on U.S. admission into the League of Nations. Consequently, in the election that November, voters on both sides of that controversial question thought Harding was with them.
With that, I’d point you to our front page, which aggregates, as it does each day, columns and stories spanning the political spectrum. Today’s lineup includes Al Hunt on GOP culpability for the spike in COVID cases (The Hill); Miranda Devine on how Democrats’ border policies are spreading the virus (New York Post); and Stephen Collinson on Donald Trump’s $100 million political war chest (CNN). We also offer a complement of original material from RCP reporters and contributors, including the following:
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Dems Brace for Inflation Attacks During August Recess. RCP senior political correspondent Susan Crabtree reports on party messaging as Republicans cast blame for rising consumer prices on President Biden’s domestic spending.
Want Your Country Back? #FlyYourFlag. Columnist Frank Miele spotlights a trend he’s noticed in his Montana neighborhood that he hopes reflects a national trend.
How U.S. Can Fix Supply Chain Vulnerabilities. A trio of authors offers this prescription at RealClearPolicy.
“Pelosi’s Subway” Cost: $1 Billion Per Mile. Also as RCPolicy, Adam Andrzejewski highlights the skyrocketing price tag for a Bay Area Rapid Transit extension to San Jose.
Beware Proposed Increase in Inheritance Penalties. At RealClearMarkets, Andrew Wilford lays out the implications of an administration proposal to repeal the so-called “step-up in basis” when inheriting a decedent’s estate.
Perils of Cutting Guam’s Missile Defenses. At RealClearDefense, Seth Cropsey warns that the House Appropriations Committee budget reduction would undermine U.S. deterrence in the increasingly unstable Western Pacific.
You Will Probably Be Infected With the Coronavirus. RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy explains why the world will have to live with the pathogen till the end of time.
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Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics