The Corner

Attribution

In today’s Impromptus, I talk about Bob Ehrlich, the ex-governor of Maryland — specifically, his new book: America: Hope for Change. In the course of my notes, I say something about quotations and attributions.

There is the “false Tocqueville” quote — the one about how America is great because she’s good. There is the bit usually attributed to Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do” you know what: nothing.

I also mention WFB, who was quite relaxed about sayings and clichés and the like. He’d say, “Yeah, Voltaire didn’t say the one about fighting to the death for your right to say it, but gimme a break.” He would also employ such phrases as “gild the lily” — and don’t bother him with the original Shakespeare, which he knew perfectly well.

(“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw perfume on a violet,” etc. Guy could write, Shakespeare. WFB, too.)

In my notes, I say at some point that Ehrlich’s language reminds me of Reagan’s, in “A Time for Choosing” — the speech he gave late in the 1964 campaign that became simply known as “The Speech.” And here in the Corner, let me say something I don’t say in my column.

For many, many years, I’ve spoken of “the Reagan slogan ‘Peace through Strength.’” I came of age in the Reagan era, and “Peace through Strength” was definitely his slogan, and, more important, his policy. (Sadly, and alarmingly, Republicans have now fallen away from it. And the Democrats fell away from it in about 1970.)

Re-reading “The Speech” yesterday, I was astonished to see that Reagan used “peace through strength” — specifically saying it was Goldwater’s phrase.

And where did Goldwater get it? From someone else, surely. And that person, in turn . . .

Attribution can be a very tricky thing.

While I have you on the line, let me mention this: In The Speech, Reagan said, “If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin — just in the face of this enemy [Communism]? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world?”

Nobody talks that way now — nobody in politics, that is. Reagan wouldn’t either (I’m sorry to tell you). Kind of a shame, IMO.

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