Lest we think that politics have only recently become uncivil, a gander through the history books puts us right. I’ve been collecting epithets used to describe politicians and rulers past. Needless to say, they are a lot wittier than most of what we come up with today. Most were coined when the written word was the primary source of entertainment, which left people far better versed and eloquent than today.
It started with Otto von Bismarck’s put down of Napoleon III, whom Bismarck described as “a sphinx without a riddle.” One needn’t recall the history to understand that Bismarck is disparaging the French ruler as a hollow man who relies on an impressive façade.
Then I came across “His Accidency,” a moniker applied to President John Tyler by the Whig establishment. Recall, Tyler came into office when President William Henry Harrison died shortly into his term in April, 1841. Tyler was so disliked by his fellow Whigs that he achieved what no president has: he was expelled from his own party.
Two asides about Tyler: He still has grandchildren who are living (as of March, 2018), and he was the only former US president who served in the Confederate House of Representatives. (Thank you to my colleague Chris Leppek for that second tidbit.)
In a similar turn-of-phrase, Rutherford B. Hayes was referred to as “His Fraudulency” following his victory in 1876, largely considered to have been stolen by the Republicans.
Is it just me or do “Lyin’ Ted” and “Tricky Dick,” while both pithy, simply not live up?
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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