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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Piranhas in House Turn on Each Other
      •  Biden Tries to Nudge Congress
      •  Trump Legal News: The Cheese Stands Alone
      •  Butler Walks Away
      •  I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Spam Maps
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude: Parrot Lincoln? We Think Not

Piranhas in House Turn on Each Other

You wouldn't think it possible, but things have gone from bad to worse in the House of Representatives, as the House Republican Conference has left itself, at least at the moment, with no apparent way forward.

Let's start with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), specifically, with the vile campaign of intimidation that has been waged by his supporters. CNN managed to acquire a voicemail left for the wife of an unknown male representative who voted against Jordan. Here is an excerpt, which we are not going to censor because we think that inappropriately mutes the impact. If you don't want to read adult language, please skip the indented paragraph:

Your husband's an asshole. You should fucking talk to his stupid ass. We're at war. Israelis being killed. And your dumb husband is acting like a fucking two-year-old? No wonder. He's a fucking war-mongering piece of shit. So listen, you're going to keep getting calls and e-mails. I'm putting all your information over the Internet now. Everybody else is. And you will not be left alone because of your fucking faggot husband. Jim Jordan or more conservative or you're going to be fucking molested like you can't ever imagine. And again, non-violently. You won't go to the beauty parlor. You must be a bitch to marry a fucking ugly motherfucker like that.

Jordan, for his part, has disclaimed responsibility for this stuff and has announced that his supporters should stop doing it. We don't particularly believe those sentiments are genuine; it reads like a big, amoral game of "good cop, bad cop" to us. Further, even if Jordan is being completely forthright, he has been encouraging this kind of approach to politics for over a decade (remember: "legislative terrorist") and has been a supporter of Donald Trump, who took this stuff mainstream. In short, there is (metaphorical) blood on Jordan's hands, and like Macbeth, there's nothing he can say or do to remove it.

If the poor woman who received that message was the wife (or husband, or child, or parent) of one of us, there would be absolutely nothing Jordan could do to get our vote, not today, not tomorrow, not a hundred years from now. And it's pretty clear there exists a cadre of Republican members who feel the same way. In theory, there was supposed to be a third speaker vote yesterday. Once it was clear it would fail, Jordan called it off, and tried to meet with the holdouts. Not only did he not win any converts, according to those who were there, but at least a dozen members refused to even attend the meeting.

At that point, Jordan announced that he planned to "suspend" his efforts for now, and that he thought it would be a good idea to work on empowering Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) to run the House for now, with resumption of the race for the speakership to happen sometime in January. It did not take long before a sizable chunk of the Republican Conference made clear that was not happening.

What, exactly, is the problem with this ostensible compromise position? Not too many members have explained themselves, but we think we have a pretty good grasp on the main concerns:

  • Kicking the can into the future probably doesn't do much good, especially if Jordan's campaign is merely "suspended," and there's no real way for an alternate candidate to emerge (as Jordan would remain speaker-designate).

  • Creating a pseudo-speakership would establish a precedent that could be abused in the future.

  • Some members like dysfunction, and don't want it to be resolved.

On the latter point, there were some truly... remarkable... comments from a few current and former members of the House. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene whined: "this conference is absolutely broken." Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) decreed: "I believe it is a constitutional desecration to not elect a Speaker of the House." Former speaker Newt Gingrich said: "And it's really, truly, I think the most disgraceful behavior by Republicans in my lifetime." Hmmmmmm... if only we could figure out who it was that made this kind of dysfunction possible. But we just can't put our finger on it.

With relatively few alternatives, House Republicans have scheduled a third vote for today at 10:00 a.m. ET. Will they actually hold the vote? Maybe. Will it result in the election of a new speaker? Seems... improbable. (Z)

Biden Tries to Nudge Congress

Last night, as announced, Joe Biden delivered an Oval Office address on Ukraine and Israel. He likes to do that; this was his second such speech. That puts him just one behind Barack Obama (across 8 years) and tied with Donald Trump (across 4 years). If you'd like to watch the President's remarks for yourself, you can do so here:

It's only about 15 minutes. Biden is not Bill Clinton, after all.

The main points made in the speech were as follows:

  • Ukraine and Israel have the same problem: A hostile enemy wants to destroy their country and end democracy.
  • He stands strongly with Israel.
  • He also stands strongly with the Palestinian people, who are not responsible for Hamas.
  • Israel was not responsible for the hospital bombing.
  • Antisemitism and Islamophobia, both domestically and abroad, are always wrong.
  • Though he will not lead the U.S. into a hot war, the U.S. nonetheless has a part to play in both conflicts.
  • I, Joe Biden, am the first president since Abraham Lincoln to visit an unsecured war zone—just sayin'. (twice)

On the whole, we thought it was a strong address. We'd give it an 8.5/10 in terms of ideas, and maybe a 6/10 in terms of delivery. That said, ideas are more important than delivery, long term. See below for another example.

In general, the reviews across the non-right-wing media are good, and take the position that the President did a good job. And what are the right-wing media types saying? Well, Fox's Brit Hume, who is both moderate and generally pretty reasonable, said that it was "one of the best, if not the best, speeches of his presidency." The praise continued after that; you can read more at the link, if you wish. Sean Hannity, who is neither moderate nor reasonable, had the opposite reaction, lambasting the address as "clichéd, disjointed, back and forth." Who knew Hannity does not like a clichéd or disjointed presentation; you certainly wouldn't be aware of those preferences from watching his show. The scorn continued thereafter; you can read more at the link, if you wish. We have thoughts about which assessment is more worth listening to, but readers can decide for themselves which is on the mark.

That said, if you would like a conservative tiebreaker, The Bulwark's Jonathan V. Last has also been very liberal in his praise of Biden's handling of the situation. Here's his assessment, which was published before last night's address:

In one week Biden has:
  • Given Israel moral, rhetorical, and concrete support.
  • Rallied Europe to Israel's cause.
  • Pulled the main body of the Democratic party even further away from its radical, anti-Israel fringe.
  • And pushed Israel to be more attentive to humanitarian concerns in its campaign against Hamas.

That pretty much tracks with our thinking. But what really matters is what the purse-string-controlling members of Congress think. Maybe one day, if the House Republican Conference can elect a speaker, we will find out. (Z)

Trump Legal News: The Cheese Stands Alone

Boy howdy, was there a lot of big news yesterday; it's not often that a major Trump-related legal development would be relegated to the third slot on the page. But that's the kind of day Thursday was.

As most readers will have heard by now, Sidney Powell has copped a plea in Trump's Georgia election case. She has already recorded a statement of her guilt, and will provide information and testimony as needed for the prosecution. In exchange, Fulton County DA Fani Willis will recommend 6 years' probation, a fine, and the writing of a letter of apology to the people of Georgia.

It is not terribly surprising that Powell flipped. Clearly, she did not have the stomach for a long, drawn-out trial process, which is why she and Kenneth Chesebro exercised their right to a very speedy trial. Now, the Cheese is all on his lonesome. We suspect that Powell also does not have the financial means to mount a defense, especially since she's got legal problems and exposure in other states, like Michigan. In any event, she's the second person to turn state's evidence in the Georgia case, after bail bondsman Scott Hall. But she's the first to be truly scary to Trump, as she knows a whole lot more than Hall does about where the bodies are buried.

Reader (and lawyer) A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, was able to write up a brief assessment of the situation for us:

After Powell's attorney tried the usual pre-trial maneuvers of trying to get the charges thrown out or reduced, which were easily dispatched by Judge Scott McAfee, she did the only sensible and rational thing (words I never thought I'd use in connection with her) and pleaded guilty. The details of the plea further reveal the brilliance of Willis. First, consider the charges that Powell was facing—they only involved the breach of the voting equipment in Coffee County—fairly low-level considering her extensive involvement in every aspect of Donald Trump's effort to stay in power. Prosecutors clearly had their sights set on her from the beginning and banked, correctly as it turned out, that she would be the most likely to cooperate. They also know that maybe only Rudy Giuliani knows more than she does about where all the bodies are buried—she's got the goods on Trump, so prosecutors were prepared to give her a pretty sweet deal. And I'm guessing Willis was not disappointed. Powell has already given a recorded statement and it must have been a doozy. Consider the terms of this deal: no jail time, only 6 years probation, $6,000 fine, $2,700 in restitution, and an apology letter. And here's an additional sweetener—the deal is under the Georgia First Offender Act, which means that if she complies with the terms of her plea, she will have no criminal record. As the prosecutor put it: "She can honestly say she has never been convicted of these charges."

What does that mean for Trump? In legalese, it's very bad news. Powell is obligated to testify truthfully against all the other defendants in the Georgia case and, as required whenever a defendant enters a plea, she had the following colloquy with the judge: "Are you pleading guilty today because you agree that there is a sufficient factual basis, that there are enough facts that support this plea of guilty?" McAfee asked. "I do," Powell said. Why is this significant? Because she is an unnamed co-conspirator in the Special Counsel Jack Smith's criminal conspiracy case against Trump. All of this testimony is admissible in the federal case. And her admission that the alleged facts in this case are true means she can't testify differently in any other case. If the facts underlying the charges against her are true in the Georgia case, that bolsters the allegations in the federal election interference case.

It'll be interesting to see if Chesebro pleads guilty next. Jury selection is scheduled to begin tomorrow, with the trial starting next week. But since he wasn't first, and it's good to be first, I doubt he'll get the same sweet terms.

Just about anyone with relevant expertise who has weighed in agrees with A.R.'s assessment. That includes former U.S. Attorney (and, of course, current Trump rival) Chris Christie, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman, The Bulwark's Kim Wehle, CNN's Elie Honig and The Washington Post's Aaron Blake. But if you're only going to read one piece, perhaps for schadenfreude purposes, then you probably want this one from Slate's Jeremy Stahl, headlined "Sidney Powell's Plea Deal Is So, So Bad for Donald Trump." He emphasizes, in particular, that her plea is likely to cause others to flip, and also that she's entirely boxed in, because if she doesn't abide by the terms of her deal to a judge's satisfaction, then that 6 years' probation will become 6 years' jail.

The only folks with a significantly different take are the right-wing legal types, like Jonathan Turley and The National Review's Andrew McCarthy. Both of their pieces (and others) focus, laser-like, on the fact that Powell did not plead guilty to racketeering. This ostensibly implies that the case against Trump is weak, and that the charges against him are not likely to stick. We are not legal experts, of course, but this seems like wishcasting to us. The Georgia RICO law is pretty harsh, and it's not easy to turn a RICO plea into probation (possible, but not easy). Further, the "this is good news for Trump" crowd seem to be forgetting that there are plenty of non-RICO charges against him that also carry stiff sentences (especially for a 77-year-old), and also that the main goal of a prosecutor is to get as many fishes, and as big of fishes, as is possible. Letting a small fish off the hook in service of netting a dozen much larger fishes sounds like a pretty good trade to us. Anyhow, we're obviously not buying the right-wing, pooh-pooh pieces, but we pass them along so as to give a more well-rounded view of the response to Powell's plea. Perhaps readers will click on them and find their arguments more compelling than we did.

If you look at the reader comments in many of the news stories about the deal, you will see that many readers are incensed, as in: "She helped try to overthrow the government of the United States and all she has to do is say she's sorry." These readers don't understand the game Fani Willis is playing, and playing well. You let the little fish get away with stuff if that makes it much easier to snare the big fish.

And now, it's your move, Mr. Chesebro. (Z)

Butler Walks Away

In the 16 days since she was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) to replace the deceased Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-CA) has toyed with the possibility of trying to keep the job. This despite the fact that the race is already crowded, with two well-heeled and well-known contenders in Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter (both D-CA), as well as a less-well-heeled but still well-known Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Butler would certainly have been an interesting candidate, but her main politically useful attributes are already covered by the other three: Schiff is a well-connected insider, Porter is an outspoken progressive, and Lee is a Black woman. And all three are better known and have a 3-to-6-month head start. It would seem the Senator took a look at the situation and decided there was no lane for her, and so she announced yesterday that while she will be honored to serve the people of California for the next year, she will not run to win the seat in her own right.

This is good news for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), who really doesn't want to have any involvement in next year's U.S. Senate race. He neither wants to alienate the person who wins the seat, nor does he want to aggravate the supporters of the people who fail to win the seat. Did he just make a savvy guess that Butler would not try to run for reelection? Or was this discussed before he made the pick? We find it hard to believe he would just roll the dice, but if Butler made a promise not to run, then we also don't know why she would flirt publicly with the notion of running for 2 weeks. Maybe one day we'll find out. In any case, she's walking away as soon as the results of the special election are certified around mid-November, 2024. Then the winner of the special election, most likely Porter or Schiff, will be sworn in about 6 weeks before the winner of the Michigan election and any other newbies. (Z)

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Spam Maps

We held a poll last week, asking readers if they wanted us to stick with songs only for the Friday theme puzzle, or to broaden the game to other kinds of themes, or to kill the bit entirely. The results were plain: 58.3% of readers prefer broadening, another 29.4% like the songs, while only 11.3% want to kill the bit. So, a broader game it will be, though we will certainly return to songs on regular occasions.

This change in course creates a small issue to be resolved, however. The standing headline for the songs was "My Gift Is My Song." Can't use that anymore so, as you can see, we switched to "I Read the News Today, Oh Boy." That said, we also considered the line from Russell Banks "Every good title is a short story," and the quote from Bill Clinton "Follow the trend lines, not the headlines." We think they all work, in various ways, though we're open to other ideas, or to being told we picked the wrong one. If you have thoughts, let us know.

Similarly, we've been giving two bits of information on Fridays. The first is a hint as to the theme. The second is a rating as to how difficult the theme is to discern. But we have to concede, it's not so easy to judge how difficult the theme is. So, we've been considering changing the rating, in view of the adjustment to this feature, to a note as to which classic Trivial Pursuit category the theme fits best in. The hint for this week (there will be a second one tomorrow, of course), is that if we had done schadenfreude this week, the headline would have been "To Tweet, or to Twit?" Meanwhile, we'd guess this theme is about a 4, difficulty wise. Is it more useful to be told that, or to be told that the theme fits within the general category of Entertainment? Again, we welcome comments.

One other note. When we choose the headline for this item each week, we have to come up with something that refers both to the theme that we are revealing, but also the one that will be revealed next Friday. For example, "spam maps" is something we stumbled across while working on last week's theme. We are not sure if that term refers to the anti-spam Mail Abuse Prevention System, or it refers to the art of Michael Arcega, who says his work highlights that "Spam's diasporic nature is symbolic of America's ongoing influence on many nations":

A world map carved from spam

They say you haven't truly eaten until you've eaten a map of Canada made from spam. In any event, the point is that "spam maps" works for both last week's theme and this week's. We don't need feedback on this, we just wanted to be sure people understood what was going on.

And as to last week's theme, we sometimes get e-mails that lay things out for us, with some comments added, so we don't have to type up an answer key ourselves. Reader F.Y. in Ann Arbor, MI, has shown a particular talent for this, and so we'll hand the stage over:

Each headline contains a word that's a palindrome:

  1. Scalise Needed to be REDDER
  2. Biden Keeps his EYE on the ball...
  3. ...while Trump Pokes Himself in the EYE
  4. BOB Menendez is in Deep Trouble (I'll give a special nod to Weird Al here)
  5. My Gift is My Song: The Great GIG in the Sky
  6. This Week in Freudenfreude: Soldiers, Churches Show their CIVIC Spirit

I was completely despairing here, until I happened to be driving home from the dentist, turning over your two clue keywords in my mind ("dud" and "aha"), and realizing that they had a commonality.

AHA indeed, and YAY, great puzzle.

Of course it might have been my car—a Toyota—telegraphing the hint my way, probably by sending out an SOS.

I'm now glad I voted "expand the scope" in the survey. I hope you'll do more like this, where a Google search doesn't really do much good. We just have to figure it out—or get lucky—on our own.

Thanks, F.Y.!

Here are the first ten readers to get it right:

  1. J.N. in Zionsville, IN
  2. R.R. in Lancaster, PA
  3. D.D. in Carversville, PA
  4. E.M. in Jersey City, NJ
  5. F.H. in Klamath Falls, OR
  6. J.N. in Las Vegas, NV
  7. A.J. in Baltimore, MD
  8. D.C. in South Elgin, IL
  9. I.R. in Zurich, Switzerland
  10. F.Y. in Ann Arbor

If you have a guess as to this week's theme, send it here.

This Week in Freudenfreude: Parrot Lincoln? We Think Not

Hundreds of people died in the hospital bombing this week, so we're going to suspend schadenfreude for another week out of respect. It will be back soon; we have a really good story for that purpose that's just waiting to be deployed. For now, we'll give you an extra-long freudenfreude. We are guessing that is a satisfactory trade; the letters we get suggest that "This Week in Freudenfreude" is our most popular feature. Well, besides our coverage of the imminent Canadian invasion, which will surely be rewarded with a richly deserved Pulitzer one of these days.

Anyhow, given the ongoing train wreck in the House (see above), Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA) had an interesting suggestion: "It sounds silly, but let's go to Gettysburg or something... We need to sequester ourselves somewhere else outside the beltway."

We are in no position to comment on the "sequester" part of that idea, since we haven't been in the room to witness the interactions between members. Although we can say it sounds very much like a work "retreat." We do have some experience with those, and find they rarely, if ever, justify the time and hassle.

What we most certainly can comment on is the "Gettysburg" portion of that. That town is not especially convenient for travel (a couple of hours from Washington) and it's not particularly well suited to having multiple hundreds of representatives and their entourages dropping in without notice. Undoubtedly, Garcia suggested it because he thinks it will help his party channel the spirit of first Republican president and American hero Abraham Lincoln, and his greatest speech. We thought we would use this space to talk a little bit about the speech, and also some of the ways in which it illustrates the gap between the Republican Party of Lincoln and that of Jim Jordan.

First, the background, just to make sure all readers are on the same page. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 to July 4, 1863 (with no shooting, just retreating, on the Fourth). The record-keeping of that era was sub-par, such that we don't know exactly how many men were killed—roughly 8,000 across the two armies, with the Confederates getting the worst of it. What is certain is that it remains the bloodiest battle in U.S. history (while Antietam—Sept. 17, 1862—remains the bloodiest single day).

In 1863, thanks substantially to the war, the U.S. was in the midst of a sea change in funerary practices. Most obviously: (1) There was much progress made in the science of embalming, and (2) burials at home/church declined in favor of burial in independent cemeteries. After Gettysburg, efforts were made to embalm as many bodies as possible and to return them to relatives (particularly the bodies of officers), but trying to process thousands of deceased people in the span of a week or two was not plausible. Further, even if sending the deceased home was theoretically plausible, there were 1,000 or so unknowns. For these reasons, many dead soldiers were buried on or near the battlefield.

Several prominent citizens of the town did not much care for the haphazardness of that, and so they approached the governor of Pennsylvania, a Democrat named Andrew Curtin, to do something about it. Curtin saw much merit in their proposals, particularly after a visit to the battlefield, and appointed local attorney David Wills to make the proposal a reality. Wills secured a large plot of land and hired a landscape architect named William Saunders to design the new cemetery. Re-interments began in September of 1863; there would ultimately be a total of 3,512 of them (including the 1,000 unknowns). Things moved fast in that era; for better or worse, they did not worry if a project like this would disrupt the nesting grounds of the Atlantic spotted sandgrouse. The cemetery was not complete for several years, but it was complete enough that a dedication ceremony was scheduled for November 19, 1863.

In that era, a formal ceremony like this followed a pretty standard and rather drawn-out script. There were several musical selections, a prayer and a benediction, a keynote address and a dedication. The keynote was the main part of the program, and was generally a multi-hour affair. Wills and the planning committee had the perfect person in mind, the Rev. Edward Everett, who was a renowned public speaker, a political moderate (he was never officially a Democrat or Republican, though he leaned in a GOP direction), and a former U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and Governor of Massachusetts. For the dedication, which was effectively the icing on the cake, Wills and the planning committee decided to take a shot and ask Lincoln. They didn't think he would accept, but what's the harm in trying? And to their delight, he said "yes."

Lincoln, for his part, had been searching for an opportunity to deliver an address laying out his vision for the Civil War. After the twin Union wins at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, there wasn't a lot of good news from the war front, and a weary populace was less and less certain that the costs of the war justified the benefits. On top of that, Lincoln had promulgated the Emancipation Proclamation at the start of 1863, and there were plenty of Northerners who did not want to fight that particular kind of war. This specific problem was directly responsible for the New York City Draft Riots, which took place from July 11-15, 1863 (and were put down in part, incidentally, by troops that had fought at Gettysburg).

Lincoln thought the cemetery dedication, which was going to receive vast news coverage, was the ideal opportunity to share his thoughts on the war. He'd been working on a little something for several months, and he got it out and rolled up his sleeves and sweated over getting it just right. There is a silly urban legend that he casually tossed the address off while on the train trip to Gettyburg. That story may suggest "genius" but it's also nonsense. First, there are two known drafts of the address, plus notes, covering multiple months before November of 1863. Second, go get yourself a 19th-century quill pen and ink, and some 19th-century parchment paper, and then take a trip on a 19th-century train and try to do a little writing. Good luck with that. There is a reason that Thomas Edison observed that "genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."

There are two other things we should note about Lincoln. The first is that while many presidents were lawyers by virtue of their education, he was a real, live attorney-at-law. He supported himself for more than two decades through his law practice, and he really put in the work, including lots and lots of writing. There is no way to become a good writer except through practice, and he had plenty of it. He undoubtedly had inherent talent, as well, and between that and his vast experience, he was the most skilled writer ever to occupy the White House. Only a few presidents—Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Barack Obama—are even in his ZIP Code (sorry, TR, but your Victorian prose was clunky and verbose; and FDR, because we know Louis Howe wrote your speeches for you; and JFK, because we know Ted Sorensen was the real writer of Profiles in Courage).

Second, Lincoln was not an educated man in the sense that he had little formal schooling (having grown up on the frontier, and without much money, he had little access to formal schooling, even if his parents had been so inclined). That said, he had enormous respect for education and a great interest in acquiring as much knowledge as was possible. He practically memorized the complete works of Shakespeare, along with the Bible. He knew his history, and he also studied the standard 19th-century texts on rhetoric and elocution.

The point is that Lincoln came to the task of writing the Gettysburg Address with several rather powerful arrows in his quiver. And he did not start with a blank canvas. In particular, the Address was heavily influenced by a text that was more than 2,000 years old, but was as familiar in Lincoln's time as the Gettysburg Address is in ours: Pericles' Funeral Oration. And we do mean heavily influenced. Not enough to be plagiarism, but enough that nobody in 1863 would have missed the parallels. Should you be interested in reading more on that point, this essay is pretty good, though even better is Garry Wills' Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America.

Lincoln arrived at Gettysburg the day before the ceremony, and made some final tweaks to the Address at Wills' house (David's, not Garry's), where he was staying the night. The next day, after Everett went on for two hours and over 13,000 words, Lincoln stepped to the podium to share just 272 words (well, approximately 272 words):

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Note that the standard text of the Address is just a close approximation of what he said on that day. Because of Lincoln's propensity for editing and re-editing, and because he was also open to improvising a bit on the fly, there are at least half a dozen different transcriptions of the speech, each with slight variations. Since the technology to record voice wouldn't be invented until 1877, by the aforementioned Mr. Edison and his team, there's no way to verify precisely what was said on November 19, 1863.

As readers may well know, the crowd's reaction to the speech was muted. It was hard to hear Lincoln, and the Address was short enough that some people didn't fully realize he had commenced speaking until he was almost done. Even though Lincoln had a well-rehearsed habit of speaking slowly, he was still only at the podium for 2 minutes. Famously, the President thought he'd blown it, describing his performance as a "flat failure." However, the guy best suited to evaluate a speech like this, and the guy in the best position to actually hear Lincoln, was Everett. And his review was: "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

Everett had the right of it, of course. Rhetorically, you're seeing a master craftsman at work when you read that speech. Intellectually, the Address is a brilliant fusing of the ideas of the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. No longer is the goal of the war to restore the country as it was. It is to secure a "new birth of freedom"—that is, a country that actually lives up to the notion that "all men are created equal"—white and Black. Lincoln never publicly advocated for full racial equality, which would have been impractical for a politician of national stature. We'll never know for sure what he felt in his heart of hearts, but later in the war, he did publicly endorse citizenship for Black veterans.

That Lincoln was not a proto-Martin Luther King Jr., and could not possibly be given his political context, should not obscure how bold the Gettysburg Address really was. Not only is Lincoln calling for unity, he's including Black Americans (and, by extension, other non-white Americans) in that call. We're not trying to be hagiographic here, but it's one of the boldest and most radical speeches, relative to the era, that a U.S. president has ever delivered.

And guess what? The reviews were stellar. Oh, there were certainly Lincoln-hating newspapers that would have panned the speech even if it was, well, the Gettysburg Address. But beyond those, the President was heaped with much praise, as editors across the country recognized the historic nature of the occasion. The Union's war effort got a shot in the arm just when it most needed it, and that was the bridge to calling Ulysses S. Grant east (March 2, 1864), and then the commencement of the Eastern and Western military campaigns that would bring the Confederacy to its knees, with the South's fate effectively sealed on Sept. 2, 1864, just less than a year after the Address.

There is much in this narrative that is, by all indications, anathema to the people who lead the modern Republican Party, including respect for knowledge and education and expertise, willingness to put in the hard work of governing, an interest in national unity (recall that in addition to the general theme of the speech, the key players in the story were a Republican, a Democrat and an independent), and the notion that "unity" and "freedom" include all Americans and not just some. Meanwhile, perhaps telling this story helps shed a small amount of light on the challenges that Joe Biden faces as he wrestles with Ukraine/Israel, and as he tried to find just the right words to rally the American public to his banner.

One last note: This post is already really long, and the Gettysburg Address is arguably the greatest political quote ever uttered. What else can stand up to it? So, we'll run another set of quotations on Tuesday.

Have a good weekend, all! (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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