"My candidate is a dour man," the columnist Richard Cohen wrote in The Washington Post in April about his choice for president, Sen. John Kerry. "He seems as if he is no fun. No one would call Kerry, as FDR did Al Smith, `the happy warrior' or discern some impishness in him. [President George W.] Bush has that quality and so, of course, did Bill Clinton."
On the same day, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd used that memorable phrase in scorn, as he recalled a moment that has been used effectively against a prematurely exuberant Bush after the invasion of Baghdad: "Bush typified the happy warrior when he strutted across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln a year ago."
These days, we don't see too many political warriors imbued with what former vice president Hubert Humphrey liked to call "the politics of joy." During the recent Democratic primary season, Dugald McConnell of MSNBC said of Sen. John Edwards: "He has been a good-natured campaigner for the long haul. He's definitely a happy warrior."
Now the title of a column by Mark Steyn in The National Review, the phrase was made famous in an 1807 poem by William Wordsworth, beginning: "Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he / That every man in arms should wish to be?"
He is one "Whose high endeavors are an inward light / That makes the path before him always bright /... But who, if he be called upon to face / Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined / Great issues, good or bad for human kind, / Is happy as a Lover."
Wordsworth concludes on a note of sadness mixed with hope for ultimate redemption -- that if the warrior "must fall, to sleep without his fame, / And leave a dead unprofitable name," he nevertheless "Finds comfort in himself and in his cause; / And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws / His breath in confidence of Heaven's applause: / This is the happy Warrior; this is He / That every Man in arms should wish to be."
The phrase was made part of the political lexicon, as Cohen noted, by former president Franklin Roosevelt about Al Smith. Thanks to Vic Gold, a journalist whose wife, Dale, is the grandniece of Joseph Proskauer, I have what may be the full story -- verified by Robert Caro in Power Broker -- of the birth of the political usage of Wordsworth's phrase.
Proskauer was Smith's campaign manager. He also claimed to be the writer of the speech that Roosevelt gave at the Democratic National Convention of 1924, putting the name of Gov. Al Smith of New York in nomination for president.
According to Proskauer, Roosevelt, who would soon succeed Smith as governor, turned down the draft, saying, "You can't give poetry to a political convention," and came up with a draft speech of his own -- without the happy warrior. To resolve the dispute, Proskauer brought a mutual friend, the editor and publicist Herbert Bayard Swope, to Roosevelt's apartment without telling him which draft was whose.
Swope pronounced Roosevelt's draft "rotten" and hailed Proskauer's draft as "the greatest speech since Bragg nominated Cleveland." (Gen. Edward Bragg seconded the nomination of the controversial Grover Cleveland in 1884 with "They love him for the enemies he has made!")
After Roosevelt continued to resist, Proskauer, with his authority of campaign manager, told him around midnight: "Frank, we're all exhausted .... You'll either make that speech or none at all." Roosevelt, grumbling that it would be "a flop," agreed. But with his para-lyzed legs in locked braces, he made his way to the convention lectern and delivered what history remembers as "the Happy Warrior speech."
According to a grumpy Proskauer, Roosevelt later told Judge Irving Lehman that it had been his own speech with merely a suggestion from Proskauer about a line of poetry that he cheerfully "stuck in." Foolishly, the writer -- a judge, later a senior partner of a prestigious law firm -- sulked about this lack of credit throughout Roosevelt's presidency, forgetting that the man who makes the speech gets the credit for choosing whatever he pleases.
Times have changed; nowadays, phrasemakers are often credited by the speakers for memorable phrases. Reagan's "evil empire" was Tony Dolan's brainchild; former president George Bush's "read my lips" was Peggy Noonan's. Only Ted Sorensen still abides by the old Code of the Speechwriters, insisting that all of Kennedy's phrases belong to the president.
"Don't worry," the director of central intelligence reportedly told a skeptical president in December 2002. "It's a slam dunk." When CIA director George Tenet resigned this month, Mark Leibovich of The Washington Post wrote: "He is a victim of his own pithiness. If he had been long-winded and equivocal, Washington would have forgotten his words, if not his guidance."
The Wall Street Journal editorially focused on those words: "We're more forgiving about Mr. Tenet's now famous statement to Mr. Bush that Saddam's possession of W.M.D. was a `slam dunk.' Every intelligence service in the world shared that belief, as did the United Nations." The Post headline picked up the basketball metaphor: "After a Missed `Slam-Dunk,' No Way to Rebound." It describes the action of a leaping basketball player making an especially forceful "dunk shot," stuffing the ball down into the basket.
As noted here 18 years ago, its coinage has been attributed to Chick Hearn, a Los Angeles sportscaster, describing the technique of the 7-foot Wilt Chamberlain. The Oxford English Dictionary has since spotted a use in a 1976 New York Times column about Representative Morris Udall of Arizona, when Tom Wicker characterized him fondly as "the only one-eyed candidate who would know how to put in a slam dunk on a New York playground."
The phrase's meaning has evolved from "forceful, even brutal" to "decisive, a sure thing." Its closest metaphoric synonym is from bridge: A hand so strong that the player can expose his cards on the table is called a lay-down hand. There may be a far-fetched connection to slam dunk: "Enormous cards are held," The Westminster Gazette wrote in 1906, "and we have a lay-down great or small slam."
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
In 1955, US general Benjamin Davis Jr, then-commander of the US’ 13th Air Force, drew a maritime demarcation line in the middle of the Taiwan Strait, known as the median line. Under pressure from the US, Taiwan and China entered into a tacit agreement not to cross the line. On July 9, 1999, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) described cross-strait relations as a “special state-to-state” relationship. In response, Beijing dispatched People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft into the Taiwan Strait, crossing the median line for the first time since 1955. The PLA has begun to regularly traverse the line. On Sept. 18 and 19, it
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if