Friday, September 5, 2008

The fashion stakes


Malcolm guesses that "Tricky Dicky" Nixon is partly to blame. That story is worth revisiting: it tells us a lot about the workings of US political theatre.

So: a Malcolm aside:

During the 1952 Presidential campaign, Nixon's "slush fund" became an issue. The New York Post had a story that Nixon had taken $18,000 from Californian businessmen, on which Nixon had been drawing for his personal use. That might have gone away, had Nixon not gone into turbo-mode. His problem was the mud stuck because corruption had been precisely the claim he had directed at his previous political opponents. His first defence was to blame Communists for initiating a smear campaign. Everyone in his campaign, Nixon said, had to be "cleaner than a hound's tooth". The press, who had already worked out that Nixon was not that straight, were soon aiding the agitation for Nixon to be dumped from the ticket. Then Eisenhower, after a few days of hesitation,telephoned him, and gave him a soldierly instruction: "There comes a time, in matters like this, when you've either got to shit or get off the pot." Eisenhower, shrewd as ever, warned Nixon that the public reaction to a statement would decide whether or not Nixon stayed on board. On 23rd September, Nixon and his wife, Pat, mounted the dais at the El Capitan theatre, Hollywood. Nixon gave a virtuoso performance to the audience of 2,000 and (more important, and an innovation) to the television cameras. The portion that is generally remembered is when he denied that Pat had a mink coat: no, all she had was a plain republican cloth coat. That was followed by a piece of mawkish piety:
A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it "Checkers." And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.
Later, when Eisenhower (who, himself, had few illusions about Nixon) was asked how he took the speech, his reply was, "We're gonna keep the dog."
Flash forward to St Paul

On Wednesday, the wife of Senator John McCain, who apparently did not know how many homes he owned, was introduced to the audience by former school librarian, Laura Bush.

Cue some neat bitchery from Vanity Fair's Politics and Power blog:
It caught our attention, then, when First Lady Laura Bush and would-be First Lady Cindy McCain took the stage Tuesday night wearing some rather fancy designer clothes. So we asked our fashion department to price out their outfits.

Laura Bush
Oscar de la Renta suit: $2,500
Stuart Weitzman heels: $325
Pearl stud earrings: $600–$1,500
Total: Between $3,425 and $4,325

Cindy McCain
Oscar de la Renta dress: $3,000
Chanel J12 White Ceramic Watch: $4,500
Three-carat diamond earrings: $280,000
Four-strand pearl necklace: $11,000–$25,000
Shoes, designer unknown: $600
Total: Between $299,100 and $313,100
Obviously, "plain Republican cloth" is cut more generously these days.

Another Malcolm aside:

"Slush fund": that's an interesting one.

It goes back to an almost-respectable origin in the 1830s; and it's from the Navy.

Before refrigeration and other methods of food-preservation, meat on ship had to be pickled in brine. When it was boiled, most of the fat would be skimmed off into any spare barrel. This fat would later be sold; and the return went into the ship's "slush fund", to be used at the officers' discretion.

The term appears in a political context as early as 1894 (there is an earlier use, also in the Congressional Record, in 1874, but that seems to be in the original context of padding out officers' income). The reference itself is interesting: it is about the way $400,000 of John Wanamaker's money was used to influence the 1888 Presidential Election in favour of the Republican, Benjamin Harrison. Harrison repaid his debt by appointing Wanamaker Postmaster General.
Some things never change.
The defeated Democrat President in 1888 (he went on to serve a second term after the 1892 election) was Grover Cleveland. In the campaign of 1884, Cleveland had been accused of fathering an illegitimate child: he immediately admitted it, and went on, narrowly, to win the election. A further factor in 1884 was the New York Republicans calling the Democrats the party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion". The Roman Catholics turned against the Republicans, who lost New York State by just 1,100 votes, and with it the national election.


Indeed, some things never change.



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9 comments:

Jenni said...

Nice post..! Well, I want to know your views on Cindy McCain's outfit.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

There are conundra which defy even my facility in exegesis: the Schleswig-Holstein Question; Hamlet's psychology; the rules of baseball.

However, after forty years of marriage, and the rise to maturity of three daughters, I have learned the one question to which a male never offers a straight answer is: "What do you think of my outfit?"

That said, my contempt for Bush is matched by considerable respect for Laura Bush. In her quiet way -- in the encouragement of reading among the young, for example -- she has done some good. And I thought she looked the part there. Cindy McCain has a philanthropic record which should not be written off: however, on this occasion I feel she looked every inch the brewery heiress she is.

yourcousin said...

Malcolm,
You had to put the picture in at the end didn't you? Well since you did I'll have to chime in to remind that although some may remember Grover Cleveland with "fondest love" unionists most certainly will not. As he personally intervened and sent in 12,000 soldiers to break a strike and solidarity boycott against the Pullman company. It was a bitter fight which ensured that when Pullman did die in 1897 he had to be buried in a lead casket with a steel and concrete vault onto which they poured multiple tons of concrete in order to ensure that his body would not be desecrated by labor activists.

I would also note that Cleveland also inflicted a great deal of harm to the country when he supported the Gold Standard which led to William Jenning Bryant's now famous "Cross of Gold" speech. From which the most famous line still deserves repetition,

"you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold"

This was, of course prior to him going bananas and prosecuting at the Scopes Trial. Though even Bryant's radicalism in '96was stolen from the Populist Party program from 1892.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

yourcousin @3.46PM:

Though whether that's your time-zone or mine, who am I to ask?

Thanks, Our American Cousin, you eternally are to me as Jiminy Cricket (a.k.a. Il Grillo Parlante) was to Disney's parody of Pinocchio.

Of course, you are quite correct about President "Uncle Jumbo" Cleveland, though, I admit, I had forgotten the Pullman Car strike, which -- quite properly -- brought 150,000 railway workers out in sympathy. Add to that, perhaps more significantly, his ambivalence about racism: denouncing prejudice against and exploitation of West Coast Chinese, versus his silence about the plight of Black Americans in the South, or his inability to enunciate a position on female emancipation.

He must have had something going for him. In 1886, going on 49, he managed to hook himself a 21-year old, good-looking, intelligent girl.

What came out of this moment-of-truth is the recognition that Grover Cleveland's wife survived into my own life-span. Crying out loud! -- that makes me feel old, but old.

yourcousin said...

The timepost is definitively your time zone as I had yet to have breakfast when said comment was made.

As for what Grover had going for him when he married his 21 year old wife. He was president at the time so that might of had something to do with it. And actually he did enuciate a position on women's sufferage,

"In a 1905 article in The Ladies Home Journal, Cleveland weighed in on the women's suffrage movement, writing that,

'sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by men and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence'"

Now okay thats from Wikipedia but at least it's referenced.

As for racism at the time. It was unfortunately also present in organizations such as the ARU which denied membership to African Americans which meant that many of the scabs were black. This didn't mean though that they were totally supportive of the company as Pullman cars in black neighborhoods were attacked and burned during the course of the strike. Oddly enough the Knights of Labor worked to admit blacks into the ranks yet tolerated the segregation of the South and was hostile towards the Chinese in the west.

Not great but there it is. And I'm always happy to be of service.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

My American Cousin:

You are, as always my guide, deliverer and friend on all things to do with the IWW view of the world. Praise be to Daniel de Leon and Big Bill Haywood! (and I bet there's not 0.0001 per cent of the population who could do that from memory: particularly so after two and more bottles of good red wine).

Seriously though: there's a doctoral thesis to be written (and many probably have been) on how the reactionary Democratic Party -- Tammany and all -- manged to extract itself fron the racist, intransigent mire of the late 19th-century into something almost -- almost -- decent.

The essential trouble for pragmatists, like me, is that we've got to deal with what we've got. Otherwise we spend our time outside the tent, pissing in.

yourcousin said...

First and foremost, thank you.

Secondly I would hastily point out that there's no real IWW view of the world for me to subscribe in any traditional sense of ideological orthodoxy. I am a militant unionist true enough, but that does not inherently begin or end with the OBU. To me the IWW in its most basic form does hold out faith for me in that it seeks to teach workers to organize themselves into democratic bodies that can not only affect change in the workplace but also encourages critical engagement in their own communities and other spheres of their lives.

In the longish run this could hopefully be used to rebuild some sort of working class culture and community which has been ravaged by television and alienation from not only one another but from ourselves.

As for being inside or outside of tents. There was a time when it was those outside of the tent making change happen. And that those inside the tent were scrambling frantically to stop it, slow it down, or channel it in a direction of their choosing. Hence we have things like the Wagner Act which while on the face pro-worker and yet in the long run detrimental to the cause of labor due to the fact that they put our fate into the hands of union bosses and government. The Civil Rights movement and the Kennedy bhoys are another fine example of this.

There are two forces I have never trusted, government and corporations. To think that the same institutions that made the problems and that are most of the time manned by the same group of individuals will somehow change the problems for the better is not, (to me anyways) pragmatic.

Organized labor is in terminal decline, parliamentary socialism has been shown as a wash and Social Democratic parties are tripping over themselves trying to implement privitization schemes and far left groupings are simply chronic protestors and washed up terrorists.

It is one thing to deal with what you've got (which is why I don't advocate revolution). It is quite another to say that reform is all that is needed when in fact we're far beyond reform to fix our problems. My pragmatic response is to grab a cold beer and a watch football game to simply maintain my sanity.
____________________

On a historical note. De Leon lasted for only a year or so with the wobblies before breaking due to the fact that the wobblies would not be his puppet. I mention it because it has an Irish connection in the form of James Connolly who was De Leon's primary antagonist in the debate during his tenure in the states. As for my most idolized wob. It would have to be Vincent St. John (the Saint) who had his start with the WFM in Telluride.

yourcousin said...

First and foremost, thank you.

Secondly I would hastily point out that there's no real IWW view of the world for me to subscribe in any traditional sense of ideological orthodoxy. I am a militant unionist true enough, but that does not inherently begin or end with the OBU. To me the IWW in its most basic form does hold out faith for me in that it seeks to teach workers to organize themselves into democratic bodies that can not only affect change in the workplace but also encourages critical engagement in their own communities and other spheres of their lives.

In the longish run this could hopefully be used to rebuild some sort of working class culture and community which has been ravaged by television and alienation from not only one another but from ourselves.

As for being inside or outside of tents. There was a time when it was those outside of the tent making change happen. And that those inside the tent were scrambling frantically to stop it, slow it down, or channel it in a direction of their choosing. Hence we have things like the Wagner Act which while on the face pro-worker and yet in the long run detrimental to the cause of labor due to the fact that they put our fate into the hands of union bosses and government. The Civil Rights movement and the Kennedy bhoys are another fine example of this.

There are two forces I have never trusted, government and corporations. To think that the same institutions that made the problems and that are most of the time manned by the same group of individuals will somehow change the problems for the better is not, (to me anyways) pragmatic.

Organized labor is in terminal decline, parliamentary socialism has been shown as a wash and Social Democratic parties are tripping over themselves trying to implement privitization schemes and far left groupings are simply chronic protestors and washed up terrorists.

It is one thing to deal with what you've got (which is why I don't advocate revolution). It is quite another to say that reform is all that is needed when in fact we're far beyond reform to fix our problems. My pragmatic response is to grab a cold beer and a watch football game to simply maintain my sanity.
____________________

On a historical note. De Leon lasted for only a year or so with the wobblies before breaking due to the fact that the wobblies would not be his puppet. I mention it because it has an Irish connection in the form of James Connolly who was De Leon's primary antagonist in the debate during his tenure in the states. As for my most idolized wob. It would have to be Vincent St. John (the Saint) who had his start with the WFM in Telluride.

yourcousin said...

oops, sorry about the double post

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