Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Presidents Day 2023
"I am not fit for this office and should never have been here."
Folks, we're on low power mode today for Presidents Day. Basically that means we skip the "7 other things."
But I thought I'd share three quick items.
First, thanks so much for the amazing response to Friday's newsletter about the quote I saw and could not stop thinking about. (Link here.)
When I first saw the quote, I didn’t actually know who "R. Brault," the person who was cited for the saying, was.
A French philosopher? A European author? The first woman to earn a doctorate in psychology?
It turns out, he's Robert Brault, a freelance writer and author.
So, I tracked him down, and I asked him if he might like to do an interview. He declined, but I enjoyed our exchange. Among his quotes to me over the last few days (shared with permission):
Message 1: "At age 85 and all-but-retired from any discernible activity, I always have time to talk but seldom any inclination to."
Message 2: "I once defined an aphorism as a single sentence that thoroughly exhausts its subject. You may prove me wrong yet. Yours is a thoughtful exegesis indeed. ..."
Message 3: "You may use my words wherever you find them. Noticed a few book sales this weekend. If I owe that to you, much thanks."
I like these quotes. It takes a sharp writer to slice right down the middle, exactly between gracious and crotchety—and to do so in so few words. It gives me something to look forward to.
Mr. Brault, I salute you.
Second—and in fact my second salute of the day—news broke that President Carter, age 98, is in ill health and has decided to forgo further treatment, and instead receive hospice care.
Prayers for him and his family.
Finally—quotes and Presidents Day: I've always thought the presidents we don't remember were worth remembering.
I know that's a tortured sentence, but imagine if you were, say, Millard Fillmore.
You go through life: the ups, the downs, the sacrifices, the rewards. You make whatever bold strides and banal compromises are needed in order to secure your stations.
In Fillmore's case (of course I had to look this up): member of Congress, chairman of Ways and Means, Comptroller of New York (bigger deal then), utterly ignored vice president, then—due to the death of Zachary Taylor— president of the United States at age 50.
And then, basically forgotten. No joke, I'll bet more people reading this can conjure an image of the conservative comic strip Mallard Fillmore, than Millard Fillmore.
We've had 46 presidents. My favorite is Chester Arthur, solely because he was a lonely heart and widower who showed up unannounced at the doorstep of a 30-something woman who had been writing to him (total disaster).
As it happens, I once had occasion to dig up 101 quotes from other presidents, many of whom most of us would have a hard time naming without a hint or two or three.
Here’s what a few more of them had to say at different times:
"I have no private purpose to accomplish, no party objectives to build up, no enemies to punish—nothing to serve but my country."—President Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not."—President Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
"Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever."—President William Howard Taft, 1909-1913 (who was also chief justice after being president)
"I am not fit for this office and should never have been here."—President Warren Harding, 1921-1923 (he really said this—apparently to a biographer; it must have been quite a moment)
"One of the first lessons a president has to learn is that every word he says weighs a ton."—Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929 (good lesson to learn)
"Blessed are the young for they shall inherit the national debt."—President Herbert Hoover, 1929-1933 (ha ha ha oh right, that's us)
"Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names."—President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1961-1963
"You know, doing what is right is easy. The problem is knowing what is right."—President Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-1969
"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." — President Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989
"The American Dream means giving it your all, trying your hardest, accomplishing something. And then I'd add to that, giving something back. No definition of a successful life can do anything but include serving others." — President George Herbert Walker Bush, 1989-1993
I'll stop here; if I were to get any more contemporary, we'd quickly divide the audience. Have a great day, and I'll see you tomorrow.