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May 1

Written by: Diana West
Monday, May 01, 2017 12:27 PM 

Take a look at the lead story of November 1, 1940.

With the presidential election just a few days away, GOP presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie made giant headlines with a warning to the nation.

Wilkie Warns U.S. Of One-Man Rule; Citing President's `My Envoy' Remark

The President Next May Be Speaking of `My People,' He Tells 12,000 in Camden

Wilkie was seizing on FDR's mention in a speech of "my Ambassador to Great Britain" -- and, maybe more notably, the New York Times was seizing on his seizing on it.

FDR's use of the possessive struck Wilkie as something new or likely jarring to the American people, and he fit it into the context of the GOP's ultimately unsuccessful push against FDR's decision to flout the tradition set by George Washington and seek what would be his unprecedented third, and, later, fourth term in office. 

Wilkie explained:

That ["my'] is what any man would naturally say who has in his hands enormous power, and who has felt the taste of power, who thinks in terms of himself as the ruler of a people instead of being merely an instrument for carrying out the laws of the land.

In another speech, he said:

It used to be `my friends,'" he said. "Now, it is `my Ambassador.' Pretty soon it may be `my generals,' then it will be `my people.' " 

I don't know for sure if FDR's "my ambassador" comment is the first such presidential clinker with monarchical echoes, although William Safire's Political Dictionarywhich actually includes a "my" entry, begins with it. Safire's next example is Lyndon Johnson in 1966 declaiming about "my Congress," which pretty much bears out Wilkie's concern about the increasingly authoritarian nature of US presidents in the FDR-mold.

Today, the pre-modern sensibility would fry listening to recent presidents from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Donald Trump talk about "my secretary of state," "my ambassador" "my national security team" and the possessive like.

Early in Obama's White House tenure, Charles Krauthammer wrote the following: 

Notice, too, how Obama habitually refers to Cabinet members and other high government officials as "my" -- "my secretary of homeland security," "my national security team," "my ambassador." The more normal -- and respectful -- usage is to say "the," as in "the secretary of state." These are, after all, public officials sworn to serve the nation and the Constitution -- not just the man who appointed them.

Excellent reminder, although it is a fact that this "my" stuff is a bi-partisan affliction.

Not only does it tell something about FDR and certainly his most recent successors, it adds a little more to the story of how free citizens have lost both stature and ground to the all-powerful Swamp.

 

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