Poetry In Politics

While the public's overall opinion of politicians has changed little since the first Egyptian ruler promised his pyramid builders a comprehensive retirement plan in exchange for an eighty hour work week, the style of politicians has been altered greatly over the last century. In the 1910s politicians knew that their words would most likely appear in print (as opposed to radio and television) and they strove to make their speeches sound as if they had been handwritten by God himself. Sometimes their motives were noble-just as often they were not.

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An example of the lost oratory skills of politicians is this speech delivered in a session of Congress in 1915 by Representative E. Y. Webb of Shelby, North Carolina as he spoke against allowing women to vote:

"Nature destined woman to be the homemaker, the child rearer, while man is the money maker. I am unwilling, as a Southern man, to force upon her any burden which will distract this loving potentate from her sacred, God-imposed duties. I am unwilling to force her into the vortex of politics, where her sensitiveness and her modesty will often be offended."

Despite the best of Webb's intentions, Women's Suffrage became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and was ratified by the U.S. Congress on August 18, 1920.

In a grand move of unpopular, unpatriotic isolationism, North Carolina Representative Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, then the Democratic majority leader, opposed President Woodrow Wilson's declaration of war on Germany in 1917. Kitchin acknowledged he was walking the path of opposition, "barefoot and alone," and in a speech to the House stated that he, "is unwilling for my country by statutory command to pull up the last anchor of peace in the world and extinguish during the long night of a world-wide war the only remaining star of hope for Christendom." President Wilson's resolution passed on a 373 to 50 vote in the house and many North Carolinians called for Kitchin to resign. He managed to ride out the storm of negative publicity, however, and later became a driving force for Liberty Bonds to help fund the war effort.

Speaking of war bonds, one could hardly expect as much poetic imagery as North Carolina Governor Thomas Bicket put into this 1918 speech encouraging state citizens to pony up for the war effort by buying Liberty Bonds:

"They will yield more solid comfort for the inner man than possum and potatoes, and more juicy sweetness than the apples for which our first ancestor threw Paradise away."

Yesteryear's political arena was just as full of scoundrels and scalawags as it is today-but at least they knew how to turn the issues of the day into fodder for Shakespearean sophisms.

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