Presidents Who Make For Grand Stories

Simply one of the best columns to be found in today’s newspapers. History placed in this context always works as a column maker. Here is a snippet.

Bret Stephens: Gail, your last column reminded me that we share a peculiar obsession with obscure presidents: Franklin Pierce, Benjamin Harrison, his grandfather William Henry. I was a little disappointed that you had nothing to say about Chester Arthur. Was he too obscure to make the obscure list?

Gail Collins: Bret, this is why I love conversing with you. Breakfast followed by Chester Arthur.

Bret: Our readers can barely contain their excitement.

Gail: So here’s Chester’s story. There’s a Republican National Convention in 1880. Very bitter, 36 ballots. Roscoe Conkling, the New York party boss, wants to bring back Ulysses Grant for a third term but finally James Garfield gets the nod. To make peace, the Garfield folks offered the vice presidency to Levi Morton, an accomplished businessman.

Bret: Conkling sounds like a name that belongs in a dirty limerick.

Gail: But — stay with me, I’m almost done — Boss Conkling is still sulking over Grant and tells Morton to turn it down. Then the Garfield people — still looking for a New Yorker — turn to Arthur, who almost faints with joy.

The Garfield-Arthur ticket is elected, Garfield is assassinated and Arthur, who everybody thought of as a party hack, turned out to be a better president than expected.

Now tell me, whence comes the Chester Arthur interest? Was he a long-ago term paper topic?

Bret: My father turned me on to the joys of the historical footnote, literal and figurative. The biggest thing Arthur did as president was sign the Pendleton Act, which was the first step in professionalizing the Civil Service and eliminating the spoils system. Approximately 138 years later, Donald Trump tried partially to reverse the Pendleton Act through an executive order, which is only the 138th worst thing he did as president. But fortunately Joe Biden reversed Trump’s reversal, so the Arthur legacy lives on.

Standing In Line To Buy a Newspaper!

This story is one that will bring a smile to anyone who loves an image that recalls slices of America’s past. A smile will be created for those who love newspapers, and know of their continued importance in the nation. Also, a smile will be created for those who well understand the power of this moment in which we’re living.

This is a photo taken midday Sunday at a bookstore in Pasadena, California. When I saw it, along with the caption, I did a fist-bump at my desk.

Outside Vromans is a line of people waiting to get inside to buy the Sunday edition of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and other national papers with the news of the outcome of the presidential election. People knew the power of the headline and the value of the reporting contained in the newspapers.

The folks in line, according to the store owner, were lining up all day to buy newspapers–before they all sold out. It was reported that the store owner never had a line of customers like this before!

Now I grant to my readers, there is a bit of downside to this story as too many citizens do not read a paper on a daily basis. Getting a historic copy is special, no doubt. While that nostalgic feel from the image above strikes a note for many who see it, the fact remains that more daily consumption of actual news reporting is required in our nation. The type of reporting that newspapers provide.

And so it goes.

The 19th Amendment 100 Years Later…The Work Continues For Voting Rights


News shows and newspapers are making a play today for attention surrounding the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which secured voting rights for women.  Make no mistake the passage of that amendment is mighty historic and vitally important.

But like so much of how history is taught, as Paul Harvey might say, there needs to be ‘the rest of the story’.  The quick version taught in high schools is that women worked long and hard to attain the most precious right one can have and use in a democracy.  But the quick story is not the whole story.  As a history buff, I am often dismayed at the lack of depth and insight taught about our past, and therefore a large segment of the nation has no understanding of the larger circumstances of the country.  Simply put, the 19th Amendment was but a start.

States could use poll taxes and other voter suppression tactics — already used across the country to deny voting rights to Black men — to keep Black women from voting. They could, and did, use those same tactics against Latina women. Indigenous women and many Asian American women lacked citizenship in 1920, meaning they couldn’t vote in the first place. All in all, the 19th Amendment was essentially for one group of women and one group only: white women.

That was by design. White suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton may have championed equality for women, but in practice, they often meant women like themselves. And in the drive to get states to ratify the 19th Amendment, white advocates wanted the support of Southern white women — and their husbands and fathers — and were willing to sacrifice Black Americans’ voting rights in order to get it. They were also willing to set aside the rights of Native American and Asian American women, even though they sometimes invited these women to appear at events as a way to build interest in their movement.

I am thoroughly enjoying reading These Truths by Jill Lepore (presently at the end of WWII) as it is a book where the totality of history is allowed to be dived into, and it is not always, as so many others books attest, the sugary narrative taught in public schools.  The women’s movement was not always the best higher light.

CNN made the point in their reporting this week.

While Frederick Douglass, a noted Black abolitionist, orator and writer attended, Black women weren’t present at Seneca Falls — but their voices and perspectives on women’s rights, which for them necessarily included the abolition of slavery, are part of the long history of suffrage activism as well. Both interracial cooperation as well as tensions stemming from anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant sentiments existed in the woman suffrage movement from its inception. The tensions between White suffragists and suffragists of color, primarily African American women, intensified post-Emancipation and after the passage, ratification and adoption of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The work for voting rights is not over–in fact–on this 100th anniversary, the argument can be made the fight is being engaged by more people than ever before as Donald Trump and some of his Republican base seek to thwart the right and freedom to cast a ballot.  Then there is the irony and attempt to attach himself to the women’s movement which is so smarmy that it reeks.

Trump said he would pardon Susan B. Anthony, who fought for a woman’s right to vote.  , on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

“She was never pardoned … and you know that she got a pardon for a lot of other women, and she didn’t put her name on the list, so she was never pardoned,” Mr. Trump said during a White House event commemorating the 19th Amendment.  “She was guilty for voting.”

This is a classic example of what this post has commented upon.  The simplicity of knowing just the surface of history can not be the only knowledge we have about our past.

Below is the flip side of the poster which wrapped my New York Times this morning.




Grievance Politics: Nixon Had More Honor Than Trump

Those who are old enough to remember, or others who have read history, will understand the power and punch of what landed above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times.  For conservatives who chide liberals for using grievance politics..well…they no longer have room for argument given what their cult-leader did Friday night when commuting Roger Stone’s sentence. 


The lack of regard for the norms of governing, the limits of power, or the checks that need to be self-placed when sitting in the Oval Office have all been failures Donald Trump have amassed over the past years. He has been careless and most reckless with the reins of government.

Today the Times put it all into one powerful front-page article with none other than the heavy-hitting reporter Peter Baker doing the honors.  I so respect the power of journalists like Baker who hone the points which need to be known.

President Trump has said he learned lessons from President Richard M. Nixon’s fall from grace, but in using the power of his office to keep his friend and adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. out of prison he has now crossed a line that even Mr. Nixon in the depths of Watergate dared not cross.

For months, senior advisers warned Mr. Trump that it would be politically self-destructive if not ethically inappropriate to grant clemency to Mr. Stone, who was convicted of lying to protect the president. Even Attorney General William P. Barr, who had already overruled career prosecutors to reduce Mr. Stone’s sentence, argued against commutation in recent weeks, officials said.

But in casting aside their counsel on Friday, Mr. Trump indulged his own sense of grievance over precedent to reward an ally who kept silent. Once again, he challenged convention by intervening in the justice system undermining investigators looking into him and his associates, just days after the Supreme Court ruled that he went too far in claiming “absolute immunity” in two other inquiries.

One president who dared not use his pardon power in such a way was Mr. Nixon, although he considered it. Mr. Nixon’s associates paid hush money and dangled the prospect of clemency to the Watergate burglars to buy their silence but that was off the table once the Watergate story broke open.

Likewise, Mr. Nixon secretly promised to pardon three lieutenants, H.R. HaldemanJohn D. Ehrlichman and John N. Mitchell, the day after Senate hearings opened in 1973. “I don’t give a shit what comes out on you or John, even that poor, damn, dumb John Mitchell,” he told Mr. Haldeman in a conversation captured on his taping system. “There is going to be a total pardon.”

Mr. Haldeman sensed danger. “Don’t even say that,” he warned.

“Forget you ever heard it,” Mr. Nixon replied.

He never followed through. Mr. Haldeman, Mr. Ehrlichman and Mr. Mitchell were indicted in 1974 and accused of making “offers of leniency, executive clemency, and other benefits” to obstruct justice. All three went to prison.

Mr. Nixon resigned that August without using his pardon pen. But he received one himself a month later from President Gerald R. Ford, who wanted to spare the country the spectacle of a former president on trial, only to trigger a backlash that helped cost him the 1976 election.

“I think Nixon understood the power of the public and did his crimes in private, not in public, to avoid political consequences,” said Jill Wine-Banks, a Watergate prosecutor. “He was right then. Look what happened to Ford. But Trump sees no consequences.”

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Sunday National Paper Uses Full Front Page To Make Point About Pandemic


The New York Times took the extraordinary step of devoting the entire front page of the Sunday paper to the names of those who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. An image of the heartbreaking display in the early edition was posted on the newspaper’s Twitter account on Saturday evening.

The headline reads: “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss.” According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker, the death toll in the U.S. stood at 96,875 at 6 p.m. on Saturday.



Why Unnamed Sources Matter To Reporters And Citizens Alike

Nothing seems to lather up the Fox News demographic quite as easily as when unnamed sources are used by reporters and news operations.  The use of such sources, so as to allow citizens access to information about their government, seems not to be understood by a sizable segment of the nation.

With that in mind, while reading Churchill by Andrew Roberts, I came across one of those shining–or should I say glaring–examples as to why unnamed sources matter.  To bore the point deeper the example comes from The New York Times.

Readers of history know the fallout resulting from the Dardanelles campaign during World War I.  What many may not have known is what was quoted by an unnamed source leading up to what became a military debacle.

Churchill had a report leading up to the military actions in the Dardanelles which quoted an unnamed naval officer in the appendix who argued that time and “the policy of watchful waiting” was on the Allies’ side and “those amateur strategists who demand that the British Fleet should charge madly over minefields to get to the Germans simply ask England to commit suicide”.  Churchill did not circulate the report with the unnamed source to the War Council.

There are absolutely credible reasons why unnamed sources speak to reporters, and why reporters write their stories and inform the people.  Reporters have a duty to protect the identity of their sources.  That should be obvious.  The reasons include the fact whistleblowers can lose their jobs if their identity were made known, and sources in dangerous areas could face death.

Unnamed sources elicit more information for the citizen via conversations with reporters.  Such sources are a most vital link in the work journalists do, providing a powerful ingredient so citizens know what the government is doing in their name.

Freedom Of The Press And The Death Of Ray Jenkins

An obituary that carries with it a slice of American history that resonates over the decades.

Ray Jenkins, the city editor of The Alabama Journal, was eating a bologna sandwich at his desk on April 5, 1960, and thumbing through a week-old copy of The New York Times when a full-page ad caught his eye.

Prominent liberals, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Robinson, were appealing for money for a legal-defense fund for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was facing a trial in Alabama on perjury charges — a good local angle for The Journal.

The ad, titled “Heed Their Rising Voices,” castigated Alabama officials for what it called “an unprecedented wave of terror” against leaders of the civil rights movement.

Within minutes, Mr. Jenkins tapped out 13 paragraphs about the ad; his article appeared in the paper that afternoon.

Apparently, no one else had noticed the ad until then — The Times sold 394 papers a day in Alabama in 1960. And so Alabama officials were startled and enraged after reading Mr. Jenkins’s report, which pointed out that the ad contained some factual errors.

They filed a libel suit against The Times, which ended four years later in a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court in the paper’s favor. The case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, made it harder for public officials to sue for defamation and remains a bedrock legal principle upholding freedom of the press.



We know the slurs and slams all too well from Donald Trump towards the Fourth Estate.  I have commented about them often on this blog.

Trump has called members of the press “enemies of the people,” deemed critical coverage “fake,” accused news organizations of treason and uttered the phrases just as Joesph Stalin did.

But not until this week had Mr. Trump turned to the ultimate recourse of the unhappy reader: He canceled his subscription.  This should surprise no one as Trump has often stated his disdain for reading.   His illiterate nature is the outcome of such a way of life.

Officials in the West Wing on Thursday announced that copies of The Washington Post and The New York Times would no longer be delivered to the White House. The administration is moving to force other federal agencies to end their subscriptions to the papers, as well.

Trump can not stand the heat that is building under him.  Republicans are coming to realize that the creepy guy they crawled into bed with is seriously ill and wonder how sick the entire party will become.  If all this were to be placed into one quote–from The Washington Post--today it would be the following one from a Trump insider.

“We are getting crushed right now.”

That’s from a Trump adviser who has been regularly speaking with the orange-skinned man, describing to Post reporters the view that Trump and his allies are increasingly struggling to defend him from growing evidence he attempted to bolster his own political future by pressuring Ukraine.

Instead of planning for the end of his term in office the White House is just stopping the messenger from having access to alert them as to when the moving boxes should arrive for Trump’s hairspray bottles.

Tick, tock, tick……