Friday, October 29, 2010

From Intelligence Squared, U.S. Debate series: Big government is stifling the American spirit

A video of the entire debate featuring Arthur Laffer (of the Laffer Curve), and Laura Tyson (Berkeley, and the President's board of econ. advisers)

The full debate:


The vote:

Before debate.

For 29%
Against 44%
Can't make a decision 27%

After debate

For 49%
Against 43%
Still can't make a freaking decision 8%

By the rules of the debate a win goes to the FOR team.

Exhibit B from the Harry S. Truman "There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know" department

A knowledge of history prevents unnecessary kvetching. Case in point: Democratic politics has always been nasty. Today does not hold a candle to yesterday. Today's politicians are pikers compared to our Founding Fathers when it comes to the fine art of character assassination and insult.

Behold the partisan rancor of the campaign of 1800. Jefferson v Adams.

Man. To think these guys were friends at one point. Whew.

It was over 12 years before they patched things up. They died as close as they were in the build up to the revolution, fittingly, within hours of each other, on July 4, 1826 and left us a literary legacy to boot.

In the end, two very big individuals, able to forgive.

Harry Truman on "Potomac Fever"

Katy Couric's revealing turn of phrase when describing her foray outside the comfy confines of Lower Manhattan had me primed for finding this gem from Harry S. Truman, keen observer of human nature:

I'm reading the great 1974 book Plain Speaking, one my grandfather introduced me to, back in Brownwood Texas. It is essentially a collection of transcriptions of interviews with Harry Truman, his family, friends, associates. It was collected during an extended filming, intended for a multi-part television series about Mr. Truman. The project never came to fruition, but we are fortunate that Merle Miller preserved in writing his conversations with the man from Independence. Well, one of Truman's truisms, one that really sticks, and alas, one that is sadly neglected, is this:

"There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know."

[Truman took this pithy bit of wisdom very seriously. He had the perspective of a Greek tragedian; seeing human nature as essentially unchanging, and therefore liable to lead to repetitions of similar mistakes and foibles, which fact, due to general lack of regard for history, would lead successive generations to the painful but necessary point of having to learn yet again from experience and hard knocks that those mistakes and foibles are indeed mistakes and foibles. A very Greek conception of our condition. Thucydides would approve.

This outlook came from President Truman's lifelong love of books. He was incredibly well read. Among other things, he read the entirety of Plutarch's Lives, and Caesar's Commentaries when a child. He was fluent in Latin. He read the great philosophers and everything "Old Tom" Jefferson wrote. As a child he devoured every one of the 3000 or so books in his local library. Harry Truman was a very formidably educated and informed man. Perhaps the most literate of the 20th century chief executives. Breathtaking. Some of us collect books like stamps. Harry did this AND read every damn one of those books he collected. He saw in the history of our republic, one interesting phenomenon that seemed to repeat; a cycling in the level of respect tendered from those in power in Washington and the Manhattan-Centric Media toward folks in the areas of the country West of the Appalachians. This passage has more to do with the former group than the latter, but President Truman had plenty to say in other parts of this book about that latter group. Anyway, Harry would probably recognize much in today's political climate, what with the Tea Party movement, and the consternation it has caused in some circles:

From the interview. Mr. Miller is asking the questions:

Did You ever have the feeling that some people in Washington are convinced that people in the western part of the country can't read at all? And don't think?

"I did. Oh, my, yes. That's why when there was some talk that Washington might be bombed, while I was President, I wanted to move the capital out to Colorado so the people in the Senate, in the government, many of whom had never been west of the Appalachians would have to come across the country - they'd have to drive; I wouldn't let them fly - would come across and see the country and get to meet people who aren't suffering from what I call Potomac Fever."

What's Potomac Fever?

"It was Woodrow Wilson that coined the phrase. He said that some people come to Washington and grew with their jobs, but he said a lot of other people came, and all they did was swell up. Those that swell up are the ones that have Potomac Fever. They're the people who forget who they are and who sent them there."

Does that happen very often?

"I'm afraid so. Washington is a very easy city for you to forget where you came from and why you got there in the first place."

Did you ever feel you were in any danger of doing that?

No, no. I always came back to Independence every chance I got because the people in Independence, the people in Missouri had been responsible for sending me to Washington. And that's why when I ended up in the White House, after I had finished the job, I came back here. There is where I belong."