Happy Presidents' Day

Let's do something day-appropriate, and look at Jeff Jacoby's story about How the most qualified presidential candidate became America's worst president.

When James Buchanan was elected to be the 15th president of the United States in 1856, America was riven by sectional tensions and a deepening antagonism over slavery — an antagonism that had descended to violence in "Bleeding Kansas," where scores of pro- and antislavery settlers were murdering each other in a fight over the territory's future status.

To many Americans, it must have been reassuring to see a president with Buchanan's extraordinary record in public life take the helm. The 65-year-old Pennsylvanian had begun his political career as the youngest member of the state legislature before winning five terms in the US House of Representatives. In 1832, Andrew Jackson appointed him ambassador to Russia. He was elected twice to the Senate, served as secretary of state under James Polk, and was chosen by Franklin Pierce to be ambassador to Great Britain.

When Democrats in 1856 sought a standard-bearer untainted by the polarizing furor over slavery and Kansas, Buchanan, with his scintillating resume, seemed ideal. In a three-way election, he handily defeated John Frémont, the candidate of the fledgling Republican Party, and former president Millard Fillmore, who represented the nativist Know-Nothing Party.

If you need to brush up on your mid-19th century American history, and who doesn't, Jeff's column is a good start.

New Hampshirites can take a bit of solace that Buchanan was so bad that he saved our Franklin Pierce from grabbing "Worst President Ever" honors.

Briefly noted:

  • George F. Will breathes a sigh of hopeful relief: The Supreme Court finally gets a shot at Biden’s student-loan lawlessness.

    In his State of the Union address, President Biden had thoughts about almost everything, even unto the crisis of hotel “resort fees.” He was, however, parsimonious with words — just a three-word boast about “reducing student debt” — concerning his policy of student loan forgiveness. His reticence about unilaterally spending, by executive fiat, about $400 billion perhaps reflected foreboding.

    He knew that on Feb. 28 the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about his plan’s constitutionality. An amicus brief from 11 conservative intellectuals, with impressive judicial and executive branch experience, demonstrates that Biden’s behavior is a particularly egregious example of lawlessness committed by presidents of both parties. Were Biden to succeed, the nation’s constitutional architecture would be irrevocably altered.

    The Magnificent Eleven note that the framers considered the power of the purse “the central and most important constitutional power reserved exclusively to the legislative branch, enabling it to oversee and control virtually every activity of the federal government.” Hence the clarity of the appropriations clause: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”

    Biden's contempt for Constitutional restraints on his power should be an impeachable offense.

    But then we could have said that about many recent presidents.

    And we probably should have said that about many recent presidents.

  • Michael Graham covers a topic we mentioned yesterday in our Nikki-a-thon: Attacks on Haley's Race Part of Left's Hypocrisy, NH Republicans Say.

    “Nikki Nimrata Haley shamefully [is] using her Indian heritage to launder white supremacy and GOP talking points,” wrote MSNBC progressive Wajahat Ali, later adding: “Looks like Haley is trying to use White grievance and hate to pave a lily-white road to the White House.”

    Since Haley formally launched her campaign, social media sites have been full of these attacks, including the debunked claim she “changed her name” to hide her identity.

    “First, let’s point out ‘Nikki’ is the name on my birth certificate. I’ve been called ‘Nikki’ all my life,” the former U.N. Ambassador told NHJournal after a meet-and-greet with the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women in Manchester. She called the attacks “crazy,” and a sign of how worried Democrats are about her ability to reach voters of color.

    Graham quotes NHGOPers Daryl Abbas (whose family includes his "Italian Catholic mother, Egyptian Muslim father, Irish wife, and multi-racial son") and Ryan Terrell (African-American).

Last Modified 2023-02-21 5:24 AM EDT

The Philosophy of Modern Song

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

In these book reports, I mainly discuss my personal reactions, and avoid making explicit recommendations. That changes here: reader, if you like popular music, you would like this book. I (further) recommend you read it with one of those smart speakers nearby, so you can try to listen to the songs Bob Dylan references here. ("Alexa, play 'Detroit City' by Bobby Bare.") Or you could keep this Spotify playlist open in a tab in a nearby web browser.

Trust me, you'll have fun. I'm not sure you would enjoy any book by any Nobel Prizewinner more.

Dylan reflects on an eclectic selection of songs and artists. He tells stories in his offbeat stream-of-consciousness style, sometimes expanding on the stories the songs tell, sometimes with trivia about the artists and their times. And sometimes he'll just wander into hyperspace. Don't worry, the trip is worthwhile.

Example: When discussing "Black Magic Woman" by Santana, there's a long aside about Leigh Brackett. Didja know that she wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the best Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back? And that she also co-wrote the screenplay for The Big Sleep with William Faulkner, based on the detective novel by Raymond Chandler? And that when the puzzled star, Humphrey Bogart, asked her who killed the chauffeur, she realized she didn't know? And she asked Chandler whodunit? And that Chandler replied that he didn't know either?

I'm currently re-reading The Big Sleep, as it happens. Chandler's known for his colorful style and pungent similes. But let me tell you, Dylan turns Chandler up to … eleven? More like 37, I think. At least.

But what did Leigh Brackett have to do with "Black Magic Woman"? Well, she wrote science fiction too. Including one story where she observed "Witchcraft to the ignorant, .... Simple science to the learned." There you go. A good enough connection for Bob.

Another example: "Saturday Night at the Movies" by the Drifters? Nice song, but Dylan uses it as a springboard for discussing the decline of American cinema. No, they don't make movies like 12 Angry Men or Cool Hand Luke any more.

The book is filled with old-time pictures and illustrations, many of (at best) glancing relevance to the songs under discussion. E.g., the chapter discussing Dean Martin's version of "Blue Moon" has a full-page bigger-than-actual-size cover of the $1.75 paperback edition of Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (Not that it matters, but I have that very edition on my shelf.)

Which reminds me, I also have a paperback of Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow on my shelf. I don't think I ever got around to reading it; I should.

The cover has Little Richard and Eddie Cochran flanking Alis Lesley, who had a brief career as "the female Elvis Presley" back in the 1950s. I'm pretty sure she doesn't appear in the book otherwise.

Does this report seem disjointed to you? Dylan's style is infectious, I think.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:41 AM EDT

The Turnout

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be ballet dancers. That's the fractured tune I had running through my head while reading this. Thanks to years of dancing, one of the characters has feet "like twisted slabs of raw meat." Ick! And that's just one of the many physical traumas. Even worse, the characters are also dogged by long-standing psychic traumas. Which are revealed gradually throughout the book, and you'll say "ick!" to those as well.

I put this on my get-at-library list for reasons that are now obscure; might have been a good review in the WSJ. It turned out (heh) to not be my cup of tea, but I can see why others might like it.

Sisters Dara and Marie run a prestigious ballet school, with Dara's husband Charlie, in a ramshackle old studio. They were all once ballet students themselves, dancing under the tyrannical eyes of Dara's and Marie's mother. Who has a stormy relationship with their father. And, as it turns out, both mom and dad perished years ago in an automobile crash. Yet they seem to haunt everyone.

Set against all this is preparation for the school's annual presentation of The Nutcracker, a huge deal in the community. (Which is maybe the least believable part of the book. These guys are so messed up, I'm not sure they could organize a kid's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. But go with it.) This has its own issues, as their students have their own foibles and dramas.

Disaster—what should be a minor disaster—strikes when Marie knocks over a space heater and starts a fire in one of the studios. It's quickly extinguished, but repairs are necessary. Which brings in contractor Derek, with a personality that both grates and attracts. He adds another volatile chemical to the poisonous psychosexual stew.

The author, Megan Abbott, tells the yarn with a choppy and creepy nightmarish style; you can feel the incoming tide of dreadfulness threatening our characters. It doesn't work out well for a couple of them.

Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:40 AM EDT