recent years, an ugly new acronym has crept into American
English, namely, "POTUS." This, it seems,
stands for "President of the United States,"
which is all right, I guess, if that world-girdling
office was actually in need of a new look.
But how it hits the ear and "grinds one's soul"!
as an historian of my acquaintance would say.
Of course, by a sort of happy linguistic accident
– are there really any "accidents"? – it
does manage to ape the Indo-European root-word *pot-,
whose basic meaning is "power," as in all
those Latin words borrowed into English, like "potent,"
"potentate," and "potential."
can foresee "Potus" being used to frighten
small children into doing their homework; not to mention
providing a new punch-line for Brother Dave Gardner's
haunted house story: "You gon' be here when Potus
gets here?" Maybe not. Perhaps it isn't the fault
of any particular White House recumbent that he can
now be tagged with a word riming with "bloatus."
Clearly, some subaltern clerk coined this fetching
new nickname for humanity's great panarch. And that
brings us to the "tour" mentioned above.
Creveld remarks the transition from mobile to "sedentary"
government. The latter contrasts with older periods
when the King or Emperor spent much of his reign in
the field, looking over frontier posts and checking
up on his feudal subordinates, who, he might well
think, were keeping more loot for themselves than
they were turning over. Charlemagne was famous for
his road trips. This involved packing up the Court
and a fair-sized mob of soldiers and retainers, throwing
the lot into great lumbering wagons, and slogging
around what is now France, the Low Countries, and
a piece of Germany. It must have been very tiring.
Think of the mileage costs.
reason for being on tour in days of yore was the sheer
incompleteness of medieval "states" – if
we can even call them that. Lacking a standing cadre
of loyal bureaucrats and professional soldiers, a
monarch who wished to be in the know and make people
do his bidding, had to inspect things himself. Nowadays,
when standing bureaucracies, civil and military, bid
fair to outnumber ordinary citizens, touring has come
back in a big way – but for different reasons, I suppose.
CAN'T WAIT TO GET ON THE ROAD AGAIN…
in an administration marked by a comic-book level
of historical understanding there are those worried
about their "legacy." They imagine that
going on tour contributes to the legacy and, besides,
it's probably too much fun. And can't you imagine
Potus singing just that song, while his Regent stays
home, lost in the ozone again? But enough Commander
brings us to Orlando Sentinel columnist
Charlie Reese's meditation on the Incumbent's recent
Excellent Euro-Adventure. Visiting the outlying provinces
and satrapies, His Potificence took along "[t]he
ambassador to Russia, the secretary of state, the
secretary of energy, his chief of staff, his deputy
chief of staff, his national security adviser, the
director of the economic council, two White House
lawyers, his press secretary," and many others.1
I'd quote further, but so many factotums, flunkies,
grooms, knights, squires, cup-bearers, franklins,
gnofs, and other worthies went along as to put me
in violation of "fair use" if I named them
all. There was likely enough a canting bishop from
the religious Left, but I can't prove it. Paraphrasing
Mr. Reese, then, there were also protocol-wizards,
deputies to the secretaries, deputies to the deputies,
secretaries to the deputies, arms-controllers aspiring
to control all arms not owned by Potus, defense and
energy undersecretaries, hoardsmen from the Treasury,
PR flacks, speechwriters, communicators, schedulers,
doctors, soothsayers, the usual legion of "security"
men, reeves, seneschals, constables, and further assistants,
sub-assistants, and so on.
very "republican" in the old sense, although
our current Republicans can't wait to get in there
and do the same. I mean, George Washington had that
big expense account and John Adams wanted to be called
"His Excellency," but they would be profoundly
shocked at what the office has become. Even
the wine and book expenses of that Terrible Slaveholder,
Thomas Jefferson, pale before such stylish Globe Trotting.
Queen Victoria's sojourns in Scotland were a proper
bargain compared to the lifestyles of the Potent and
Famous, and Charlemagne could have paid his
roadies to go without him at these rates.
suppose if the Republicans squeak by and manage to
put old Dubya in the high seat of power, there will
be some minor changes in style and personnel. He would
need to take along a few fellows who can drill for
"oll" and know all about those geological
"stratospheres" (as the late Jerry Clower
called them). He'd need a special secretary for remembering
the names of minor foreign despots so the press won't
make fun of him. Advice to Dubya: Get an American
foreign policy, which puts the American people and
their freedoms first, and you won't need to know so
the gentlemen of the press who laugh at Dubbya for
not knowing who Kartvelius Goobernadze is (if there
is such a person), I should point out that according
to Van Creveld, the rise of the state was parasitic
on such things as technological progress, improved
communications, greater literacy, etc. One result
was that every important nation soon had at least
one "national" newspaper, based in the capital
and committed to the proposition that politics ought
to matter to the average Joe. This was not necessarily
about lobbying for a state-free news week? Imagine
a week in the course of which no one not CNN,
not Dan, not Tom, not even Jim (especially hard for
Jim), not the New York Times, Wall
Street Journal, etc., etc. said or wrote
the first damned thing about the state, its doings,
its satraps and functionaries, its various organs,
its titular leaders, and the rest.
no frenzied reporting from Outer Backwater, where
our Elected Ruler is shaking hands, kissing babies,
working up business deals for his pals, or apologizing
for our history and civilization. No overwrought concern
for his "safety." No suggestion that without
his and his clerks' constant intervention and detailed
oversight of our lives, the economy would quit, no
one would ever learn to read and write, and happiness,
generally, would flee the homeland. That such a week
would be blissful is putting it mildly. I don't expect
more I read up on Congress's abdication of its role
in foreign affairs, the more I wonder if anyone
should have the power to "declare war."
I throw out for future consideration a proposed constitutional
amendment, which, admittedly, goes a bit further than
Senator Bricker's proposal some years ago. It reads:
"On reliable witness that American persons and
property, at home, have come under foreign attack,
the President shall send a handwritten post-it note
to Congress. Congress shall, on receipt of such note,
send faxes thereof to the Governors of the several
states, who, at their own discretion and convenience,
shall mention it to their respective legislatures,
the which legislatures shall, if not otherwise engaged,
suggest to their militia commanders that something
ought to be done. These commanders shall so inform
their companies. On receipt of such suggestion, the
members of the militia shall determine if they can
be bothered to comply and the manner of their compliance.
No treaty, 'executive agreement,' or presidential
whim shall have any weight in their determinations."
would be a start. It raises the stakes a little. With
all this talk going around about reinventing government,
I'm just trying to help. Admittedly, lodging the power
to declare war in new places might not matter a great
deal in an age when no one declares wars anyway. But
we can take it a step further. Karl Hess once suggested
that, instead of the people dying for the state, maybe
the people should ask the state to die for them. Hess
was an extremist, of course, and "die" is
far too dramatic. How about "go on a strict diet,"
or "sit in the back of the room and shut up"?