Wood Working: Modern politicos could take lessons from rhetorical flourishes of yoreOne-hundred years ago Theodore Roosevelt paid a visit to Wisconsin. During a speech in Milwaukee on Oct. 15, 1912, a cranky cheesehead named John Schrank shot the former president.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
One-hundred years ago Theodore Roosevelt paid a visit to Wisconsin. During a speech in Milwaukee on Oct. 15, 1912, a cranky cheesehead named John Schrank shot the former president.
Good old Badger hospitality.
Nevertheless, Teddy spoke for another 80 minutes with a bullet in his chest, saying: “It takes more than a bullet to stop a bull moose.”
He was referring to the nickname of the Progressive Party, which had nominated him as its presidential candidate.
Like his cousin Franklin, Teddy was quick with a quip.
“In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard.”
He’s also the guy who said “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life.”
Years earlier, when he was president, Teddy came to the Minnesota State Fair and uttered these memorable lines: “There is a homely adage which runs, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far. If the American nation will speak softly and yet build and keep at a pitch of the highest training a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.”
Teddy re-entered the political fray in 1912, and told fellow Progressives at their nominating convention: “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.”
As we near the next presidential election it strikes me that our political oratory has fallen short of the glory of Roosevelt’s speeches, as in his speech in Chicago:
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat.”
In 1912 that “checkered by failure” speech came back to haunt him when he was defeated by Woodrow Wilson.
Winners or losers, our politicians don’t talk that way these days. They’re more likely to use what Teddy called “weasel words:”
“One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called ‘weasel words.’ When a weasel sucks eggs the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use one ‘weasel word’ after another there is nothing left of the other.”
In the old days, politicians of all stripes more often than not hit the nail on the head, as did their spouses.
Remember presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, whose policies are long forgotten while his speech lives on:
“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this cross of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
And there’s Teddy’s daughter Alice, married to House Speaker Nicholas Longworth, who said, “Harding was not a bad man. He was just a slob.”
And a wonderful riposte: “If you can’t say anything good about someone, sit right here by me.”
Years after Teddy’s death, his cousin Franklin, frustrated by the steel strike during World War II, exclaimed he wished “a curse on both your houses,” meaning both the union and the steel company.
To this another great orator, John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers, drew from his bag of rhetorical and biblical tricks when he replied: “Labor, like Israel, has many sorrows, it weeps for its fallen…(so) it ill behooves a man (Roosevelt) who has supped at labor’s table, to curse with a fine impartiality both labor and management when their horns are locked in deadly combat.”
And years back politicians had fun with language. When Adlai Stevenson was governor of Illinois, he explained why he vetoed a bird-protection bill:
“The problem of cat versus bird is as old as time. If we attempt to resolve it by legislation who knows but what we may be called upon to take sides as well in the age old problems of dog versus cat, bird versus bird, and even bird versus worm…The state of Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.”
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.