American Elephants


The Indispensable Man by The Elephant's Child

Reposted from 2012

The George Washington that most of us see most often is the engraving after the Gilbert Stuart portrait on the one dollar bill.  Reproductions of the Gilbert Stuart portrait and a portrait of Abraham Lincoln used to hang on the front wall of every elementary classroom, with an American flag standing in the corner. But then we celebrated separate birthdays, and didn’t lump them together into 3-day weekends in which no one remembers any president at all.

The portrait above, and the portrait in the header were painted by Charles Wilson Peale, who I believe to be the most skilled portraitist of his day. He painted 6 major portraits of Washington from life, and nearly 60 others based on those life portraits. If you look closely at those and at the life mask below by Jean Antoine Houdon, they are clearly representations of the same man. In an age when there were no cameras, portraits were the only way people who could not see the subject in person had of knowing what they looked like. Only a few of the portrait artists were skilled, and many were no more than sign painters — and if they got the hair and the costume more or less right, it was the best they had.

We all know, I think, that George Washington had dreadful false teeth.  A terrible pity, both for the President — because they must have been instruments of torture in his mouth — and because they distract our attention from far more important things about the man. Certainly Washington must have had access to the very best dentists of the day. By 1789, he had only one of his own teeth left.  The teeth were horrible-looking contraptions made of substances like hippopotamus ivory, hinged at the back and operated with springs. He complained that they distorted his lips, and they must have distorted his appearance as well.

Gilbert Stuart was the most celebrated of portraitists.  He trained in London, and was thought to be a potential successor to the famed Sir Joshua Reynolds.  However Stuart was extravagant and fled in debt from London. He turned up in Philadelphia during 1795 , hoping to pay off his creditors by creating a multitude of portraits of the world’s greatest man. Washington sat to him for three separate portraits, and Stuart made hundreds of copies. Take a minute to get out a dollar bill, and recognize the Gilbert Stuart image from which the engraving was made.  It is a cruel portrait.

According to James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensable Man, Washington and Stuart did not get on.  The portraitist usually kept his sitters amused and their faces alive by a flood of showy and outrageous talk. Washington always felt uneasy at having to remain still and being stared at and was put out rather than being amused.

Stuart, who felt that “artists were fundamentally superior to all other men including Presidents, resented Washington’s formality.  He could not forget what had resulted when, in trying to unstiffen the hero, he had gone to the length of saying, “Now, sir, you must let me forget that you are General Washington and I am Stuart the Painter.  Washington replied (as it seemed to him politely), Mr. Stuart need never feel the need for forgetting who he is and who General Washington is.”

Stuart emphasized, as no other portraitist did, the distortions of Washington’s mouth.  Flexner suggests that since Stuart was known to have angrily used General Knox’s portrait as the door of his pigsty that perhaps the harm he did to Washington’s historical image was somewhat deliberate.

This life mask by Jean Antoine Houdon gives us more clues as to what Washington actually looked like.  He was tall, about 6’2″, and most verbal descriptions mention his ‘roman’ nose, so it was perhaps a little prominent. This is not the face of the Stuart portrait, but looks more probable, and it is close to the Peale portraits.

Washington was an outdoorsman who spent much of his life in the saddle, and his complexion would have reflected that — more wrinkles, more weathered.  They didn’t have sunglasses and baseball hats with a brim to keep the sun out of the eyes,  lots of squinting.  The portrait above seems to match the life mask fairly well.  A far cry from the disagreeable Gilbert Stuart portrait.

I’m going a bit out on a limb here, but I spent some years in art school attempting to capture likenesses, and the smallest errors in size and distance relationships can lose a likeness completely.  Also, people see likenesses differently. Some will insist that two siblings look just alike while others will see no resemblance between the same two.  I have no real explanation for that.

I suspect that Gilbert Stuart had such a reputation as a great portraitist, undoubtedly aided by his own self description,  that perhaps people were apt to accept his work as the “right” one.  Portraits are an odd matter. One tries to capture a mobile. alive face that changes its expression constantly and represent it on a flat surface.  If you have ever had photographer’s proofs of pictures of you to choose from, that will explain the problem.  They’re all you, but you’ll like some much better than others.

Here are “reconstructions” done by a forensic reconstructionist of Washington at his inauguration, as a general, and at around the age of 19.  They are startling in their realism. I suspect (nit-picky as I am) that the face is too free of wrinkles, and too pinky-white, and not rawboned enough.  (I said I was being picky)  But they give you a vastly different impression of the man.  Haul out a dollar bill and compare.  Stuart played a cruel joke on Washington.

Washington didn’t know much about being a general when he was appointed by Congress to lead the American armies, but he was the best we had, and he did fine.  His men loved him, and he gradually taught them to be soldiers.  He was elected unanimously to be President when he wanted nothing more than to return to Mt.Vernon and retire from public life. The people idolized him.  He could have been a king or an emperor, or like some — a dictator for life.  But it was he, with his sterling character, who set the nation on the right path.  He was consummately aware that he was setting a path for those who were to follow him. He had a horrible temper, and mostly kept it under firm control.  Any of his deeds alone would have made him famous, but in twenty-four years he led our armies, won the war,  led the country, shaped a constitution, set a nation on its path and then went on home.



Just What Is The “Office Of The President Of The United States?” by The Elephant's Child

Reposted from 2010.

When George Washington was elected President, there were so many questions. A Republic was something completely new to the Americans.  What they knew was monarchy, and a very opulent monarchy at that.  They definitely didn’t want to go back to the pomp and circumstance of England.  The new office of the President of the United States needed importance, respect, dignity and what exactly? The people did not rebel against a King in order to establish a new monarchy.Congress insisted on a salary of $25,000, a huge sum for the time.  Washington accepted it reluctantly, but he spent nearly $2,000 of it on liquor and wine for entertaining.  He had, of course managed an army and a plantation.  In fact, Mount Vernon had more staff than his presidency did.

“Washington was keenly aware that whatever he did would become a precedent for the future. How often should he meet with the public? How accessible should he be?  Could he have private dinners with friends?  Should he make a tour of the new states?”  He sought advice from those closest to him, including his vice-president, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury.  The only state occasions that any of them were familiar with were those of European monarchies.

“Hamilton thought that most people were ‘prepared for a pretty high tone in the demeanor of the Executive,’ but they probably would not accept as high a tone as was desirable.  “Notions of equality,” he said, were “yet…too general and too strong” for the president to be properly distanced from the other branches of the government.” Gordon Wood tells of the dilemmas.

“When Washington appeared in public, bands sometimes played “God Save the King.” In his public pronouncements the president referred to himself in the third person.  His dozens of state portraits were all modeled on those of European monarchs.”

We can be truly grateful that Washington was so aware that he was establishing precedent, and so careful of what he said and did.  He was setting an example, and everything he did was intended to hold the new nation together, to form a more perfect union.

One simple problem was what to call the president.  John Adams had discussed the problem with his colleagues in Massachusetts.  They called their governor “His Excellency”: should not the president have a higher title?  Adams thought only something like ‘His Highness’ or ‘His Most Benign Highness’ would answer.  Washington was said to have initially favored “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” The Dutch leaders of the States-General of the United Provinces called themselves “Their High Mightinesses” and they were leaders of a Republic.”  Madison managed to get his fellow congressmen to vote for the simple republican title “President of the United States.” And that was that.

Washington was relieved when the title question was settled.  But “he still was faced with making the institution of the presidency strong and energetic.” In fact, said Gordon Wood, “the presidency is the powerful office it is in large part because of Washington’s initial behavior.”

Gordon S. Wood: Empire of Liberty; A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815



Abraham Lincoln Was Born on February 12, 1809. by The Elephant's Child

Reprinted from 2011

I liked it better when we celebrated Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday separately. When it is “President’s Day.” and a three-day weekend, nobody remembers. And you and your children must remember this man. He saved the Union, and freed the slaves.

To understand America, you need to understand the Gettysburg Address (Vanderleun)

This picture emphasizes Lincoln’s height, although his lean body and the top hat emphasize it even more. He was 6’4″, tall today, but not unusually tall. Average height in the 1860s must have been much less. George Washington was 6’2″ and considered very tall.



It is So Hard to Speak Clearly and Decisively! by The Elephant's Child

U.S. officials confirmed the death of Kayla Jean Mueller, a 26 year-old humanitarian aid worker from Arizona who was snatched by ISIS while working with Syrian refugees. Details of her 2013 capture and her death were not disclosed. President Obama made a firm statement today, blaming “unconscionable evil” and promised to “find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla’s captivity and death.”

That sounded decisive, but in another context, not so much. Mr. Obama explained, in an interview with the lefty website Vox.com that terrorism is merely one danger among many such as climate change or cybersecurity. “It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”

A “bunch of folks” in a kosher deli? The Charlie Hebdo assassins were far clearer about their ideological and theological and anti-Semitic reasons for attacking a kosher delicatessen. Press Secretary Josh Earnest didn’t help things with his explanation: “The adverb that the President chose was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible tragic incident were killed not because of who they were, but because of where they randomly happened to be.” Oh please!

Over at the State Department, Jen Psaki, press psokesman, refused to explore any motivations or blame any prejudice, saying” “there were not all victims of one background or one nationality.”  All of the victims were Jewish. The event is responsible for large numbers of French Jews leaving France.

Mr. Obama will soon give Congress his proposal for a new authorization for the use of military force against Islamic State fighters, but don’ put too much weight on that “find and bring to justice” bit. Obama will put strict limits on the types of ground forces that can be deployed. Always helps if you tell your enemy in advance just what you are prepared to do and what you are not allowed to do. It’s called “strategy,” but the information is only helpful to the enemy.

There would be a restriction on “enduring offensive ground operations,” but the 3,000 U.S. military personnel already there would be explicitly excluded from the restrictions. After that, the president would be able to deploy new military personnel in specific roles: advisers, special operations forces, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to assist U.S. airstrikes and Combat Search and Rescue.



The Middle East Has Declared War on ISIS, and Obama Won’t Help. by The Elephant's Child

2000

The United Arab Emirates is sending a squadron of F-16 fighter jets to Jordan to strike against ISIS alongside the Jordanian air force. They had suspended flights as part of the US Coalition conducting air strikes in view of concerns about search and rescue capabilities after the Jordanian pilot was downed.

Major Mariam al-Mansouri, a female pilot with the UAE air force, played the starring role in a publicity stunt last month when she was photographed in the cockpit of the F-16 fighter she had flown in the first wave of US-led attacks on targets of the Islamic State in Syria (Isis).

Thumbs up and beaming for the camera, it was a striking image that combined empowered Muslim women, the Arab fightback against jihadi extremism – and the pride of the small but wealthy Gulf state that is flaunting a new-found assertiveness and promoting its political agenda in a region in profound turmoil.

A House Armed Services Committee member revealed that the Obama administration had turned down a request from Jordan for Predator spy drones that would help locate targets against ISIS. The request was for the Predator’s unarmed export version. Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a letter asking the president to approve the transfer. “The decision to deny the license request should be reversed immediately” Mr. Hunter wrote. “Doing so will provide Jordan critical mission capability in the fight against the Islamic State and ensure Jordan is given every advantage.” The U.S has turned down aid and weapons for Ukraine in its battles against Russian-backed separatists. which Ukraine has been requesting for months.

The video of the immolation of the Jordanian pilot has not gone over well in the Middle East. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, met with Jordan’s King Abdallah, and  has vowed to help Jordan get the armaments it needs. Of course the Jordanians and the UAE are Sunni, and Iran is Shia, and Obama doesn’t want to offend Iran.

If Jordan and the UAE succeed in really damaging ISIS with their strikes on Raqqa, expect President Obama to take credit. After all, he just took credit, only a few days after banning oil drilling in Bristol Bay in Alaska, and pushing to ban oil drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Reserve, for the drop in the price of gas. He has decided that cheap gas prices were another of his great successes.

ADDENDUM: Foreign Policy is reporting that Jordan did not request Predator unarmed spy drones,  but rather that the manufacturer was denied an export license to Jordan. Armed Services congressmen have questioned the decision. Jordan has requested other equipment which has not been forthcoming. The Kurds are not being well supplied either. Obama talks big about his “coalition” but is a little short on the follow-through.



Obama’s Secret Strategy for Iran And the Middle East by The Elephant's Child

Richard Epstein, professor of law at University of Chicago, and New York University, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke about President Obama early on in his administration. He had known Obama at the University of Chicago, and through his next-door neighbor who was one of Obama’s best friends. He said that Obama was very dogmatic. Once he made up his mind, it was fixed in concrete. He does not change his mind. I have found it useful to keep that in mind.

In an important essay by Michael Doran in Mosaic magazine, the author writes about “Obama’s Secret Iran Strategy,” and suggests that a strategy, centered on Iran, has been in place from the start and consistently followed to this day.

In the giddy aftermath of Obama’s electoral victory in 2008, anything seemed possible. The president saw himself as a transformational leader, not just in domestic politics but also in the international arena, where, as he believed, he had been elected to reverse the legacy of his predecessor, George W. Bush. To say that Obama regarded Bush’s foreign policy as anachronistic is an understatement. To him it was a caricature of yesteryear, the foreign-policy equivalent of Leave It to Beaver. Obama’s mission was to guide America out of Bushland, an arena in which the United States assembled global military coalitions to defeat enemies whom it depicted in terms like “Axis of Evil,” and into Obamaworld, a place more attuned to the nuances, complexities, and contradictions—and opportunities—of the 21st century. In today’s globalized environment, Obama told the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009, “our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. . . . No balance of power among nations will hold.”

For the new president, nothing revealed the conceptual inadequacies of Bushland more clearly than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Before coming to Washington, Obama had opposed the toppling of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein; once in the U.S. Senate, he rejected Bush’s “surge” and introduced legislation to end the war. Shortly after his inauguration in January 2009, he pledged to bring the troops home quickly—a commitment that he would indeed honor. But if calling for withdrawal from Iraq had been a relatively easy position to take for a senator, for a president it raised a key practical question: beyond abstract nostrums like “no nation can . . . dominate another nation,” what new order should replace the American-led system that Bush had been building?

When he arrived in Washington in 2006, Obama absorbed the ideas of the final report of the Iraq Study Group, in which the co-chairs of the bipartisan congressional commission. Lee Hamilton, former Indiana congressman, and former secretary of state James Baker,” interpreted their mission broadly, offering advice on all key aspects of Middle East policy.”

The report, published in December 2006, urged then-President Bush to take four major steps: withdraw American troops from Iraq; surge American troops in Afghanistan; reinvigorate the Arab-Israeli “peace process”; and, last but far from least, launch a diplomatic engagement of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its junior partner, the Assad regime in Syria. Baker and Hamilton believed that Bush stood in thrall to Israel and was therefore insufficiently alive to the benefits of cooperating with Iran and Syria. Those two regimes, supposedly, shared with Washington the twin goals of stabilizing Iraq and defeating al-Qaeda and other Sunni jihadi groups. In turn, this shared interest would provide a foundation for building a concert system of states—a club of stable powers that could work together to contain the worst pathologies of the Middle East and lead the way to a sunnier future.

There you have the basic strategy. Engage Iran to stabilize Iraq and Syria, to defeat ISIS, and enter an era of harmonious relations with the rest of the world. Obama is very anxious to show himself as that “transformational leader.” He, at least, is not in thrall to Israel, He wants Iran to become a “successful regional power and a friend and partner to the United States.”

Meanwhile, Iran has sent a thousand rockets to Hezbollah, is supporting the Houthi in Yemen (look at a map to see why that is important), and adding more centrifuges. White House national security advisor Susan Rice denied, in a speech to Brookings Institution, that the threats facing the United States are in any way “existential” — blaming that perception on media “alarmism.” (With more centrifuges, a bomb in 2 months!)

After a year that saw a Russian invasion in eastern Europe, continued violence in Israel, massive international cyber-attacks on American companies and the rise of an ultra-violent Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, Rice took pains to assure her audience that all is well.

“Too often, what’s missing here in Washington is a sense of perspective,” she said. “Yes, there is a lot going on. Still, while the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War. We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism or an instantaneous news cycle.”

She listed other threats to U.S. security, including “the very real threat of climate change” and the necessity of promoting equality for homosexuals. The new National Security Strategy is here, should you wish to delve more deeply. Foreign Policy remarked:

Of course, if you are like most Americans, you won’t ever read it at all. Which is just as well. Along with being devoid of strategy, the document is also devoid of surprises or new ideas. That could be because its focus is not, as would be the case in a real strategic planning document, the future. Instead, it is the past. This document is really a brief filed by the president in defense of his record to date.

The discussion of the rising cyber-threat is under a heading called “Access to Shared Spaces”. preceded by “Climate Change” and followed by “Increasing Global Health Security.”

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline quotes the Washington  Post’s concerns:

The three concerns are: (1) that a process began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and temporarily restrict that capacity; (2) during the negotiations, Obama seemingly has conceded Iran’s place as a regional power at the expense of Israel and other U.S. allies; and (3) Obama has signaled that he will implement his deal without a vote by either chamber of Congress.

Charles Krauthammer sees us as back in the perilous days of the late 1930’s, when some could see glimmers of what was coming down. I’m inclined to agree with him.



Obama’s Analysis of His Own Presidency! by The Elephant's Child

A strange day indeed. President Barack Obama appeared on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” He said he was most proud of “saving the American Economy” and he is “very confident that America is stronger, more prosperous, safer, and more influential today than it was when I took office.”

Huh?

“I’m proud of saving the American economy. We still have a long way to go. Essentially what we did was stabilize it, lay a new foundation to move forward. As I said in the State of the Union address, that gives us, now the capacity to tackle what was an overriding theme of my campaign way back in 2008.  And that is to restore middle class economics and the capacity for people to get into the middle class and start seeing higher wages and a broader shared prosperity inside the United States.”

“Internationally, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve responsibly ended two wars. Now, people will say, well, you’re back in Iraq, but we’re not back in Iraq with an occupying army, we’re back with a coalition of 60 countries helping to stabilize the situation.”

“And so one of the things I’ve learned in this job over the last six years is that sometimes progress is incremental. But when I look at overall the steps that we’ve taken, I believe they are the right ones. I am very confident that America is stronger, more prosperous, safer, and more influential today than it was when I took office.”

Republicans, online, have expended volumes of words trying to understand this president and why he does — what he does. Not very successfully. That is the things he does are not successful and our understanding is not successful. But David Horowitz, in his new book Take No Prisoners, offers some clues.

The Democratic Party has moved steadily leftward since the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern until it is now a party of the Left, led by progressives who are convinced that their policies are way stations on the path to a “better world.”

The vision of moral and social progress that Democrats share has profound consequences for the way they conduct their political battles. Unlike conservatives, progressives are not in politics merely to improve government practices and ameliorate social problems. They are missionaries who want to “change society” and “solve” its problems. They are out to create an entirely new order, which they call ‘social justice.” They think of themselves as social redeemers. Their belief in a redeemed future accounts for their political passion and for their furious personal assaults on those who stand in their way. …

The very grandeur of their ambition turns progressives into zealots. They dream of using the power of the state to make everyone equal and to take care of everyone’s needs. They are going to legislate—and dictate—social equality and social justice. How intoxicating is that idea? It explains why progressives approach politics differently from conservatives. It doesn’t matter to progressives that the massive entitlement programs they created—Social Security and Medicare—are already bankrupt. They can take care of that by making wealthy people pay their “fair share.” Progressives believe that if they can appropriate enough money and accumulate enough power, they can make their glorious future work. Everything Democrats do and every campaign they conduct is about mobilizing their political resources to bring about this result. It is about social transformation—one program and one candidate at a time. No Republican in his right mind thinks like this.

I recommend the book highly. I wish I could quote more. Eyeopening! I keep reading the first chapters over as the examples from my own experience prove every word.




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