Coronavirus Lockdowns and William F. Buckley Jr. on Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Former president Harry Truman endorsing New York governor Averill Harriman for president in August 1956 (Library of Congress)

In Impromptus today, I address a number of issues, as is the column’s wont. One of them is lockdown politics. These are very difficult politics for an officeholder, and for an ordinary citizen, too. Anyone who speaks in terms of black and white is not speaking very helpfully.

Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo of New York said, “There’s a cost of staying closed, no doubt — economic cost, personal cost. There’s also a cost of reopening quickly. Either option has a cost.” That is an attitude of maturity, or of facing reality, which may amount to the same thing.

I have opinions, heaven knows, and strong ones, but I also have some humility when it comes to this question — the lockdown/reopen question. “To govern is to choose,” someone once said. I don’t envy the choosers today.

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Governor Whitmer of Michigan is knocked as too strict. “Heil, Hitmer!” said at least one sign in Lansing, held by a protester. (I believe that was meant as a criticism.) Governor DeSantis of Florida is knocked as too lax.

I think that, in the main, what we have here is a nationful of governors and other officials who are doing their best in a terrible and weird situation — a situation in which virtually no one will be satisfied. I don’t think the Democrats are acting on their fantasy of total control; I don’t think the Republicans want to see grandparents drop like flies.

What is that man doing up there? I am speaking of Truman, whose picture sits atop this post. He makes an early appearance in Impromptus today. Some of us, in the NRI Book Club, are reading Up from Liberalism, the 1959 book by William F. Buckley Jr. “NRI,” as you know, stands for “National Review Institute.” For info on the book club, go here.

WFB did not think very much of Harry S. Truman — not in the late ’50s, he didn’t. Here is what WFB had to say about the 33rd president in Up from Liberalism:

I sat in the spring of 1958 before the television screen and beheld Mr. Truman, with the zest he has for that kind of thing, cavorting from vulgarity to vulgarity, oversimplifying issues, distorting history, questioning motives, provoking base appetites.

He proceeds to call Truman “the nation’s most conspicuous vulgarian.” He laments that prominent Democrats — even sober and august ones — behold this “vulgarian” without complaint.

Here is another passage from WFB — a Baroque one, but a sure one:

The failure to take accurate measurements where Mr. Truman is concerned, the failure on the part of men who, however much they approved his personal courage, his decisiveness, his zest, his administration, the political objectives of the Democratic Party — their failure to stand firm in judiciously assessing his dismaying personal limitations leads or would seem to lead to an anarchy in the world of taste and judgment.

You know who comes in for it worse than Truman, the ex-president, in Up from Liberalism? The incumbent president, Eisenhower. Not liking Ike, WFB faults him for many things, among them the inability to speak clearly and sensibly. Words mattered a lot to WFB, and he thought they were important in a leader. This was a constant theme of his political commentary.

Anyway, WFB:

It is a lightly guarded national secret that Mr. Eisenhower has a way of easing virtually every subject he touches into a syntactical jungle in which every ray of light, every breath of air, is choked out. But disadvantageous though this incapacity is (in an age where, War being Unthinkable, so many battles depend on verbal trenchancy), it is not a cause of national alarm. The nation has had inarticulate presidents before and has, in the short term, survived them. The distinctive danger in the case of Mr. Eisenhower lies in the fact that his inarticulateness is traceable to an organic ignorance of the nature of the society whose well-being it is his historic destiny to watch over at the moment of our great peril.

All right, one more word — concerning the title over this post I am jotting. One day, WFB sent me a recording of music, with a note saying, “Me no like. You?” (I can’t remember whether I did. Or whether I listened to the music. I should check.)


Read the Original Article Here

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