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Second-best is good enough

A little digression into presidential politics.

Robert V. Remini’s biography of Henry Clay includes this little nugget from the presidential election of 1844:

[W]hat many of Clay’s critics held against him, it seemed, was his outstanding ability. They did not want a statesman in the White House. They preferred men of lesser talents. Clay “may be a more brilliant orator” than Polk, conceded the Richmond Enquirer on October 28, “but we do not want splendid eloquence to conduct the executive department." He may be a “more dashing politician” than his opponent, “but we do not want any high flying and daring politician, who soars beyond the constitution” in pursuit of some “extravagant object. ... We want no aspiring ‘moon-reaching’ president.

The Republic will sometimes, luckily, place a Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt or some other exceptional person in the White House, but a look at that dim group between Jackson and Lincoln, or most of the chief magistrates between Lincoln and the first Roosevelt, among others, points to a strong recurring preference for unthreatening, genial mediocrity.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:11 AM | | Comments (3)


A lot of doctors recommend a bland diet, too.

"a look at that dim group between Jackson and Lincoln . . . points to a strong recurring preference for unthreatening, genial mediocrity."

You're forgetting about Franklin Pierce, of course.

JEM: Don't think so. Van Buren, Harrison the First, Tyler, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan.

John Early Mcintyre...I was your band director at Fleming County High School and am trying to make contact with you. I have some great memories of some pretty good times there...Just wanted to say hello.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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