Humility From a Politician?

Here are two enjoyable examples of that great rarity: a humble political speech.

Exhibit A is Calvin Coolidge addressing an American Legion convention in 1925, peppering his talk with humble homespun language and his own vision of what “America First” should mean. It’s a tour de force of peace over war (marred only by Cal’s approving depiction of growing US military power and expenditures), idealism over pettiness, charity over welfare, and civilization over statist destruction. He is particularly good at avoiding the Broken Window Fallacy with respect to the then-recent Great War:

In a conflict with engaged all the major nations of the earth and lasted for a period exceeding four years, there could be no expectation of material gains. War in its very essence means destruction. Never before were contending peoples so well equipped with every kind of infernal engine calculated to spread desolation on land and over the face of the deep. Our country is only but now righting itself and beginning a moderate but steady recovery from the great economic loss which it sustained. That tremendous debt must be liquidated through the laborious toil of our people. Modern warfare becomes more and more to mean utter loss, destruction, and desolation of the best that there is of any people, its valiant youth and its accumulated treasure.

Exhibit B is Jimmy Carter’s “Law Day” speech before the Georgia State Bar in 1974, a talk made famous by Hunter S. Thompson. It gave Thompson his first inkling that Carter might be formidable enough to defeat the more popular Ted Kennedy in a Democratic presidential primary two years later. Carter is his now-familiar nagging and scolding self, but only behalf of causes like (real) civil liberties, Nixonian corruption, and local cronyism preying on the destitute and illiterate:

I was down on the coast this weekend. I was approached by a woman who asked me to come by her home. And I went by and she showed me documents that indicated that her illiterate mother, who had a son in jail, had gone to the County Surveyor in that region and had borrowed 225 dollars to get her son out of prison. She had a letter from the Justice of the Peace that showed that her mother had made a mark on a blank sheet of paper. They paid off the 225 dollars and she has the receipts to show it. And then they started a five year program trying to get back the paper she signed, without success. They went to court. And the lawyer that had originally advised her to sign the paper showed up as the attorney for the surveyor. She had put up 50 — 50 acres of land near the county seat as security. And when she got to court she found that instead of signing a security deed that she had signed a warranty deed. That case has already been appealed to the Supreme Court and she lost.

Both are good reads!


4:33 pm on January 17, 2018