in American History
nolead begins By Jan R. Van Meter
University of Chicago Press. 324 pp. $22.50
nolead ends nolead begins
Reviewed by Leonard Boasberg
The 2007-08 presidential campaign had its share of slogans and catchphrases, but not many memorable ones.
"Change" doesn't have much ring to it. "That's not the change we need." Thud. "Bridge to nowhere"? Thanks but no thanks. "Palling around with terrorists" didn't get any traction. How about "socialism," which John McCain brought out toward the end of the campaign? Somebody said that younger people thought it was something you did on Facebook.
I think "Yes, we can" is the only one history will identify with, just as "Give 'em hell, Harry" evokes Harry Truman in his successful campaign in 1948, and we remember Ronald Reagan in Berlin in 1987 demanding, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Who can forget another famous utterance in Berlin, 24 years before, by John F. Kennedy, standing before that wall dividing the city in two and declaring before an assemblage of more than a million, "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner' "?
Of course, you remember from your high school history where the title of this book, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, comes from. Um, don't you?
Tippecanoe was the nickname for the Whigs' presidential candidate in 1840, military hero William Henry Harrison, who had won a costly victory over Shawnee Chief Tecumseh near the Tippecanoe River in Indiana. Harrison was really born to the American aristocracy, but that didn't stop the Whigs from promoting him as a "log-cabin living, cider-drinking, homespun-wearing" man of the people. He died a month after taking office, and his vice president, John Tyler of Virginia, became president.
In Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, Van Meter has picked out more than 50 miscellaneous slogans and catchwords - the equivalent of modern-day sound bites, if you will - and recounts their origins and historical context.
"We shall be as a city upon a hill," for instance, derives from a sermon the Puritan leader John Winthrop preached during the two-month voyage across the Atlantic in 1630. It wasn't until 1961 that the words were used in a political voice, by John Kennedy, just before his inauguration. The phrase is generally associated with Ronald Reagan, who often referred, before and after he was elected, and in his farewell address, to the "shining city upon a hill."
Most of the slogans and catchwords are familiar. We've misattributed or punched up some to make better sound bites. Some weren't said at all by the person we think they were said by, e.g., "Prosperity is just around the corner." Herbert Hoover didn't say that, even if he did imply it.
We associate "We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately" with Benjamin Franklin, but according to Van Meter, the first person to use the expression was Carter Braxton of Virginia, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1776.
Leo Durocher didn't say, "Nice guys finish last." What he actually said was, "The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place." That small boy didn't say, "Say it ain't so, Joe," to the White Sox slugger Joe Jackson, one of the players caught in the 1919 World Series fix, but it was a good story and it reflected the general feeling of betrayal.
Speaking of baseball, do you know why the Los Angeles Dodgers are called the Dodgers? Before they packed up and moved to Los Angeles they played, more or less, in Brooklyn; the team started out as the Trolley Dodgers. That, nostalgia fans, was back in the day when a kid could go to a game if he collected enough bottles and turned them in at the store.
Tippecanoe and Tyler Too is a pleasant read, and one of its famous quotations is applicable today. It's Franklin D. Roosevelt's assurance, in his inaugural address in 1933, in the midst of an economic meltdown, that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."