Historical perspective

A Team of Rivals?

Wasn’t it about a year ago we heard of the daring moves by President Obama to gather around him in the Cabinet Room a “team of rivals,” a la Abe Lincoln.  LaHood, Clinton, Gates.  Do you see much impact from these unprecedented moves?

Is it just another example of a story line that adds drama but little else of substance?

Politics the Way It Used to Be

Given what many think is a poisonous political climate, I harken back to an earlier time. 

Shortly after the House of Representatives gave John Quincy Adams the presidency, his rivals, especially his former ally Andrew Jackson, were incensed.  (Jackson had won the plurality of electoral college votes but lost the vote in the House due to Speaker Henry Clay’s influence.)  In the early days of the junior Adams’ administration, Latin American countries, many of which recently won their freedom from Spain, proposed a Panama Conference to discuss common objectives and pursue alliances.  Adams’ opponents didn’t like the idea, especially Virginia senator John Randolph.  An accomplished orator, despite an unusually high-pitched voice that was a result of illness, Randolph went after Clay who was advocating the United States’ participation in the conference..  Randolph, who once said, “I am an aristocrat.  I love liberty, I hate equality,” called the conference “a Kentucky cuckoo’s egg, laid in a Spanish-American nest.”  Clay, of course, was from Kentucky.  Randolph said the conference was the result of “the coalition of Blifil and Black George,” a reference to disreputable characters in the novel Tom Jones. 

Clay was incensed and challenged Randolph to a duel, “which ended with the Kentuckian firing a bullet into the Virginian’s coat and the irrepressible Virginian firing into the air.  Then they shook hands. According to Senator [Thomas Hart] Benton, who was hiding in the bushes at the time, it was one of the last high-toned duels in Washington.” (from The Birth of Modern Politics, by Lynn Hudson Parsons, pg.119)

Forget the “high-toned duel,” I’d be happy if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell would just shake hands.