Here are some highlights of my weekly reading.

How FDR Made Republican Isolationists Look Silly with a Simple Rhyme

by Charles Sykes, Politico, March 20, 2024.


In the speech, Roosevelt deployed the full force of his rhetorical talents against three leading Republican isolationist leaders: Mass. Rep. Joseph Martin, the House minority leader; N.Y. Rep. Bruce Barton, a conservative ad man who had founded the agency BBDO; and the patrician N.Y. Rep. Hamilton Fish III, who had opposed measures to rearm the nation and aid the victims of Hitler’s aggression.

In the first draft of the speech, the names — Barton, Fish and Martin — were listed in alphabetical order. But during one of their late-night writing sessions, FDR and his speechwriters, Robert Sherwood and Samuel Rosenman, hit on a more rhythmic option: Martin, Barton and Fish. Roosevelt immediately seized on the new rhyming litany. As one aide later recalled, “The president repeated the sequence several times and indicated by swinging his finger how effective it would be with audiences.”

In Madison Square Garden, Roosevelt clearly relished the moment. He ran through the list of Republicans senators who had voted against the bill that lifted the arms embargo to victims of Nazi aggression. Then he paused and smiled. Who else had voted against the bill? he asked. “Now wait,” the president said, “a perfectly beautiful rhythm — Congressmen Martin, Barton and Fish.”

He meant it to sound like the nursery rhyme Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. It worked. The second time that night he intoned the names in his distinctive drawl —Martin, Barton and Fish — rally-goers chanted the names with him. A few nights later in Boston, FDR deployed the trio again, and every time he mentioned Martin, the crowd shouted out “Barton and Fish!” The three diehards became instant household names and the chant, Martin, Barton and Fish became the soundtrack of the 1940 campaign.

I’m quoting this, not to endorse FDR did, but to note what a clever politician he was.

I wonder if some of the Republican “isolationists” (i.e., people who want to keep the U.S. out of other people’s wars) might be able to use a similar tactic. They have a head start. The article above refers to “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.” Biden has secretary of state Antony Blinken. Then there’s Biden himself. Could Rand Paul, one of the more consistent opponents of getting into foreign wars, start referring to “Biden, Blinken, and Harris?” There’s a certain ring to it.


How the Government Almost Killed the Apple

by C. Jarrett Dieterle, Reason, March 23, 2024.


As cider declined in prominence, the bucolic rural apple orchard became less important to the American lifestyle. But while the apple was already declining across the nation’s cultural landscape, it was the U.S. government that delivered the coup de grâce to this noble fruit.

With Prohibition’s advent in 1920, not only alcohol but also the ingredients that made alcohol became public enemy No. 1. As Smithsonian Magazine recounts, FBI agents took to chopping down acres and acres of backwoods apple orchards, “effectively erasing cider…from American life.”

The War Prayer

by Mark Twain


Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

Then a stranger comes along and says to the congregation:

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.” (I’ve highlighted the part about unintended, but necessary, consequences.)

Of course the guy was a lunatic.