Monday, October 8, 2012

Election season picks

No, not candidates, it's a secret ballot and I already voted.  Too bad for the local candidates still trotting around and leaving little notes and encouragements, their fated is decided, at least as far as I'm concerned.

No, these are picks for interesting stuff I've been reading and watching, as a pleasant contrast to the hysteria of even the public broadcasters in this season.  One is a little book written by Cicero's brother, yes, that Cicero, when he was running for pro consul against heavy odds, as a nonaristocrat in ancient Rome where Family Was Everything, but was a brilliant lawyer with many grateful clients.  Wonderful treatise How To Win Election, one side in Latin, which I struggled a bit with, the other side mercifully in English, very well rendered, and it shows every step of the campaign strategy practiced to this day at all levels from municipal lightbulb changer to President.  Things like: find your opponent's weakness and harp on it. find people who owe you a favor and call it in, promise you'll try to work for their interests after election if they'll vote for you, time enough to explain that after all, once you got into office, it just wasn't feasible....great reading. I may have harped on this myself, but it's worth saying again anyway.  Heck, candidates repeat themselves all the time.

The other is an American Experience public tv production, on DVDs from the libe, naturally,  called First Ladies.  It's a series, of which up to now I've watched Dolley Madison, what a cutup, and Eleanor Roosevelt.  Dolley was a genius, never realized this before.

She understood the power of the symbol.  When the brits were busy threatening to burn down the White House with her and her slaves inside it while husband was away losing a battle elsewhere, she instantly ordered that the things to be saved aside from the people were the official documents, and, most important, the portrait of George Washington.  When they couldn't get it out of the huge and heavy frame she ordered them to just bust  up the frame, roll up the portrait and get outta there.

After she saw the dox and the pic safely heading off in wagons to safety, she evacuated the house of all the people, and left all the other artwork and priceless furniture and artifacts, knowing she'd preserved the most important items.  Which she had. 

The portrait and all the dox, were pretty much the most significant things about the country at that time aside from the Liberty Bell which was safe in Philadelphia anyway.  But how many people would have thought of it? realized what a trophy it would make in the hands of the brits, back in London? and how it could work as a symbol to rally round again? My heroine.

There were even early photographs, taken of her in later life, very exciting to see, and poignant to see that old, widowed and nearly destitute, she apparently had one good outfit for public wear, which she wore bravely in all the pix.

Eleanor needs no intro from me, but I like to see that she knitted a lot in her public appearances, even waiting her turn to speak as Chair of the Dec. of Human Rights committee.  I'm guessing it was to keep her nerves under control, very calming activity.  I notice, too, that she knitted on dpns without looking, while she was conferring with Roosevelt.  She must have needed a lot of knitting at his death when she discovered that he'd been seeing Lucy Mercer again, that she'd been with him at his death, and that Anna, Eleanor and his daughter, not only knew all about it, but helped arrange meetings.   Seems foolhardy to do this to someone as big as E and handy with little pointed sticks..

Yet to come: LadyBird Johnson, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan.  We'll see how the moderns stack up.


  1. I've always liked Eleanor Roosevelt. Don't know why. She seemed like someone you could talk to on a variety of subjects, if you met her. Mamie Eisenhower--that's a woman I could only shake hands with, I think.

    How could D. Madison be destitute? Was James a spendthrift? A drinker-upper?

    I can't get my mind around DPNs. I'm a knitting feeb.

    I always forget that the British burned The White House. It's an inconvenient fact for an anglophile.

  2. Ahhh, "Behind every great man ......."

  3. K, the trouble is that Dolley's son to her first marriage was an alcoholic and perhaps bipolar, grandiose dreams, spending all her money and more, and saddling her with his debts after Madison died. M wasn't very well off, not having gone in for profiting from the office. So poor D., who could see no wrong in her son, was pretty much ruined by him.

    I have a funny story about my predecessors burning the white house, which I'll relay at some point.

  4. Good timing for me to read this post because it just came over the news here that our Premier (in Ontario) JUST resigned. How does it fit together? I dunno - just that it's all political themed.


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