BEATING HIS WIFE: George Will quotes FDR!


Interlude—Once again, how not to quote: George Will really doesn’t care for Barack Obama.

Needless to say, that’s his right. But good grief! To demonstrate his disdain for Obama, Will extends in a long-drawn-out quotation of a different candidate in this morning’s column.

The candidate in question is Franklin D. Roosevelt. And holy bow-tie, Batman!

Will quotes FDR from 1920, when he ran for vice president:
WILL (8/12/12): Aug. 18, 1920, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, campaigning in Butte, Mont., said that it would be fine for the United States to join the League of Nations because our nation would have multiple votes. He assured listeners that “the votes of Cuba, Haiti, San Domingo, Panama, Nicaragua and of the other Central American states” would not be cast “differently from the vote of the United States,” which is “the big brother of these little republics.”

Then, referring to his days as assistant secretary of the Navy, the vice presidential candidate said: “You know I have had something to do with running a couple of little republics. The facts are that I wrote Haiti’s constitution myself and, if I do say so, I think it a pretty good constitution.” He added: “Why, I have been running Haiti or San Domingo for the past seven years.”

As David Pietrusza writes in “1920: The Year of Six Presidents,” Haiti and the Dominican Republic had been U.S. protectorates since July 1915 and May 1916, respectively, but the boastful candidate had not written any constitution. Nevertheless, he repeated his indelicate claim—U.S. Marines had recently been involved in some Haitian bloodshed—at three more Montana stops and then in San Francisco.

When, inevitably, the candidate’s words caused consternation here and there, he insisted he never said them, adding magnanimously, “I feel certain that the misquotation was entirely unintentional.” But the controversy continued, so on Sept. 2, in Maine, he added: “I should think that it would be obvious that one who has been so largely in touch with foreign relations through the Navy Department during the last seven years could not have made a deliberate false statement of this kind.”

Idaho’s Republican Sen. William Borah dryly said: “I am willing to admit that he didn’t say it, though I was there and heard him say it at the time.” Thirty-one witnesses of the Butte speech signed an affidavit attesting that the candidate had said what he was reported to have said, but public attention had wandered and the issue faded.
How does this relate to Obama? To grasp the depth of Will’s obsession, you’ll have to read his whole column.

That said, Will is mocking Obama for having said he was quoted out of context when he said, “You didn’t build that.”

Obama was quoted out of context in that instance, of course. Maureen Dowd repeats the offense this very day, in the New York Times.

That said, is it possible that Roosevelt was quoted out of context back in 1920? Is it possible that he’s being quoted out of context by Will this very day? Right there in the Washington Post?

For ourselves, we have no idea what actually happened in that ancient circumstance. Nor will we try to find out! Only a nut would devote half a column to this 92-year-old statement, as Will does today.

But just to stretch your understanding of the world’s possibilities, ask yourself this:

Was Roosevelt quoted “out of context” if he made those ancient remarks as a joke? If the audience was laughing at his remarks in a way which suggested they knew he was joking?

Again, we have no idea what happened in 1920. But yes, that is another way candidates get quoted “out of context.” If a candidate makes a joking remark—and a journalist quotes him as if he was serious—the journalist is misleading his readers.

In such an instance, the candidate is being quoted out of context, even if the journalist has recorded his actual words exactly as they were said.

This sort of bogus “quotation” has been somewhat routine in recent decades. In at least one instance, a candidate’s joke, reported straight, played a crucial role in a crucial White House campaign.

There are many ways to take a candidate’s words out of context. George Will is truly crazy today.

Tomorrow, Rachel's quotes.


  1. Bob writes,
    Obama was quoted out of context in that instance, of course.

    In college, I was taught that phrases like, "of course" or "obviously" or "even a freshmen knows" are what we say when we don't have a good argument for our sstatement. IMHO the President's quote was in context. I think that quote reflects the President's point: it's OK to raise taxes on successful people, because others deserve considerable credit for their accomplishments.

    1. In 6th grade I was taught a line is different than a point.

  2. How can you not understand the notion behind the observation Obama made?

    You raise taxes in order to maintain the infrastructure that helped produce those success stories. It's not about punishing success stories. It's about keeping the ground fertile for more success stories to grow.

    It's an observation that's a response to the whole self-made man ethos. We live in a community that sets the stage for those so-called self-made success stories. No one does it in a vacuum. We all have a support system, some more than others.

    Would Bill Gates have become The Bill Gates without the government creating the internet? Even he says, no way.

    If we had been maintaining a tax code that could afford to maintain the social infrastructure all these years, there would be no reason to raise taxes. But we haven't been, therefore there's a need.

    1. I think the president meant his remark precisely as you say, where I part ways is with the implication that success brings an onus to govt.

      Even with a graduated income tax, I don't think I've heard this so baldly stated by a president in the past. That has not been a traditionally American way of viewing the "social contract".

      We have meant the obligation that comes from success to be played out in private service and giving. It has only been viewed as a public one ( in the sense an extra obligation to govt) via holding public office or an appointment.

      I believe in the social contract. I'm okay with a graduated income tax. What I don't believe is the notion that Bill Gates is more obligated to foot the tax bill because he had the ingenuity to do what he did with what was there. In a graduated system I think the philosophy should be that Gates pays more because he can.

      This sort of distinction is more than just semantics. I don't that most Americans are comfortable with the sort of collectivism inherent in Pres. Obama's remark. We do believe that privilege brings the responsibility to bless others,, but the onus is to God. And as with God, it is a choice, and not at the behest of a federal gun.

    2. Again with the notion that being successful creates the responsibility to pay more taxes. No. That's wrong. Being successful simply means you can afford to pay more.

      Look at it this way - the 40 year tax and economic policies that helped create our current levels of concentrated wealth had a not-so-hidden cost. Well, the bill is coming due. Now who should pay for it?

      The context here is being ignored and all-important. We've spent the past 40 years reducing the tax burden on the highest earners. And as a result, our infrastructure and the integrity of the markets have suffered.

      Raising taxes is about correcting those twin errors which in turn leads to conditions which will breed more frequent success.

      For the past forty years, the middle class and their earnings, in real terms, have shrunk. Most of the wealth being created has been for the financial sector, not manufacturing, not small businesses, not entrepreneurs.

      Our health care costs have skyrocketed but insurance company profits have soared. Our prescription drugs have gotten more expensive but the drug company profits have soared.

      The list goes on and on.

      The government stopped investing, by and large, in projects of public good. They got outsourced. The benefits in terms of quality was not better, by and large (i.e. see the electrical grid). The profits all went to earnings for a relative few and were not re-invested into making qualitative improvements, the way a government-run project would have been.

      Our society and the priorities of Congress have changed because of this concentration of wealth.

      This conversation raised by the President is not about punishing success. It's about paying down the uber-wealthy's 40 year tab of government economic and tax policies that favored them at the expense of everyone else.

      Any other way of looking at it, in my opinion, is sophistry.

    3. Frankly, I think it's sophistry to argue that we aren't going to raise taxes on the rich because they are rich, we're raising taxes on the rich because we didn't raise them in the past, therefore they "owe" these taxes.

    4. Interesting. What I said was - We cut taxes on the uber-wealthy in the past, allowing them to concentrate their wealth.

      Then I said - That reduced revenue for the government which led to reduced investment in infrastructure and weak/stagnant growth at best for everyone else.

      Finally, I concluded - Therefore, we should fix that problem by restoring those previous tax rates.

      You translate that into me saying "we didn't raise taxes in the past so we should raise them now." And then you accuse me of engaging in sophistry.

      How wonderful.

    5. Generally, speaking to argue that taxes were cut on a certain entity, "...and the bill is coming due. Now, who should pay for it", is to suggest the people who got a pass owe it and should pay it.

      It's a rather circular argument-- 'we reduced rates on the people who should be paying more, now we should raise them back. Why? Because they should have been paying more. Any argument to the contrary is sophistry.'

      No, any argument to the contrary is not sophistry simply because it doesn't fit your presumption of who should be paying how much.

    6. Cecelia's social contract is closer to an unwritten etiquette directive: we shall not remind the Masters of The Universe that they would have accomplished little without the guy who works at the booth at the train station where they buy there ticket to go to work. A social contract would be closer to guaranteeing that guy a decent living and health insurance.

      Other impolite questions abound: what is that guy in the top office doing to make 500 times what the guy in the mailroom makes? But for now we might leave it with Bill Gates, who seems to basically understand such common sense far beyond the realm of Rand Heads like Cecelia. (I know I'm being presumptuous, but you'll notice She never REALLY contradicts me).
      At any rate, in the through the looking glass world conservatives (ha!)
      have stuck us with, the people who have now run Microsoft into the ground will be expecting there bailouts anytime now...

    7. Einstein, that you are, I hate to break this to you, Greg, but our nation's "Social Contract" isn't really lying in a safe in some attorney's office...

      It REALLY is an unwritten "etiquette directive" where we all agree that we will abide by a few written codes and give up some our resources and even our autonomy for the social good.

      As for asking those impolite questions, about the Masters of the Universe, I've expressly stated here that I'm questioning them myself.

      I've expressly stated too that I'm coming to the conclusion that while we do, indeed, need some codified reforms, it may very well be that a sense of manners is exactly what's needed. As well as a sense of shame. And a sense of social pressure that involves something more than the bullshit mickey mouse polemics you trot out in lieu of actually relating to anyone who doesn't talk as though they're your sock puppet.

  3. Should successful people be grateful to government? I think gratitude should flow the other direction. I can imagine Romney/Ryan saying something like this:

    If you've been successful, you provided jobs to your employees. Your provided business opportunities for your suppliers, your distributors and your customers. Their businesses also provided employment. These businesses and all their employees spent money that supported other businesses and their employees. All these businesses and all these employees have been paying federal imcome tax, corporate income tax, state income tax, local wage tax, property tax, gasoline tax, user fees, licensing fees, etc. In short, your successful business has made a major contribution to the money that pays for everything government does.

    So, we in government want to acknowledge and thank successful people. You are allowing government to perform all that it does.

    1. Successful people should avoid believing their success occurs in a vacuum.

      All this stuff about providing jobs and this defense of the generic "successful person" is a smokescreen.

      What Romney/Ryan and others are promoting is not a leveling of the playing field. It's not a clearing of the deck so that the entrepreneur can finally reach her potential.

      It's to neuter the referee, even more so than has been done these past 40 years. It's to provide cover for a country that is falling behind practically every other developed nation in providing basic social services for its citizens - all so that Johnny Conglomerate CEO can continue to have private meetings with regulators and law makers. So that corporations can continue to use our court systems to enforce its business model on our markets. So that the Wall Street Wizards can continue to buy and pay for the media coverage that fawns over their lifestyles.

      This country has been subverted to serve those interests over and above all others. Can you really continue this charade of the poor hen-pecked businessman?

      Open your eyes.

    2. Well said.

      But it simply boggles the mind that we're having this insane conversation.

      "Government," for crying out loud, is us. It's how societies band together to do things we can't -- or won't -- do on our own.

    3. This sort of discussion IS about US. It is part of the Democratic process. All your opinions on the details of our banding together are not foregone conclusions.

      How you got the impression that the are or should be is what I find surprising.

    4. Perhaps he got the impression that government -- US -- has a big role to play in the economic success of the nation because he is a student of history.

      Perhaps, just perhaps, he knows enough to believe that the infrastructure to which Obama referred didn't appear magically because God blessed us with it, but took the sacrifices -- and taxes -- of generations before us to build.

      And perhaps he realizes that the very infrastructure won't maintain itself without goverment -- tax -- support.

      That is the debate today, and it has been since at least the moment Reagan proclaimed "Government is the problem."

    5. "Perhaps...he is a student of history."


      He just wishes to paint any opposition to his opinion as being extremist. Just as you do now with the simplification of a debate about the effectiveness of govt work programs paid via a tax increase.

      If you were a student of history you'd know that this ongoing discussion has been going on far longer than Reagan.

      You may not agree with your opponents but the suggestion that the topic is unarguable is bunk.

  4. In an age where pandering is often mistaken for courage, I often remember a real act of political courage that happened decades ago.

    Running for president in 1968, Bobby Kennedy spoke to a group of medical students at a high-end university. He told them all the progressive proposals he was advocating that government had an obligation to pursue.

    One of the students asked, "But who is going to pay for all this?"

    Kennedy replied, "You are."

    1. Oh, yeah...he needs a Profile in Courage Award for saying let's let rich doctors pay for entitlements.

      Goodness knows it's always an risky proposition to promise programs on the basis of those rich shits paying for them.

    2. Amazing how "entitlement" has become a dirty word.

      Social Security and Medicare, systems in which workers pay for to have a chance to live their retirement years in dignity, are now "entitlements."

      "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need." Acts 4:34-35.

    3. "Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?

      The property was yours to sell or not to sell as you wished. And after you sold it the money was yours to give away."

      Acts 5: 2-3

      I have nothing against entitlements, only with the attitude that any discussion of change where they are concerned is tantamount to heresy.

    4. Read on to find out what happened to Ananias and his wife after they decided to keep "a portion" that Peter said they should have given to the apostles for distribution to the community, beginning immediately after Peter's rebuke:

      "When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.


      About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

      “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

      Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

      At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

    5. That happened because they LIED about doing something that Peter makes clear they were under no obligation or duress to do.

      St Peter wasn't functioning there as the IRS...

  5. george will always, always, does this. some weird quote plucked out of nowhere to make the column seem profound. i laughed out loud a little when you called him a nut, thinking of how many people view this guy on the same level as an ancient lyric poet

  6. The bottom line is: Neocons want feudalism.

    Their foreign policy, their domestic policy and their ideology all demonstrate this.
    Paul Ryan says he was greatly influenced by Ayn Rand.
    Ayn Rand said little people don't matter.
    In April, Barack Obama said Ryan's budget is thinly veiled social Darwinism.

    The power of labor and the middle class has been stripped away steadily since the end of WWII.
    At the same time, the flow of wealth has moved increasingly to the rich.
    These are measurable facts.

    Romney and Ryan want the most powerful military in the world, whatever the cost. Why?
    Neo-feudalist Hermann Goering explains it this way:

    Hermann Goering to Gustav Gilbert, 18 April 1946 in Goering’s cell at Nuremberg Germany.

    “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.”

    Gilbert: “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

    Goering: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

    It can't happen here.

    1. Two are you? Glenn Beck's mirror-image?

    2. It's a fact: the Republican party is neo-feudalist.

    3. I don't know. Designing a system of support based around the monetary offerings of the wealthy, sounds a bit serfdom to me.