Monday, May 15, 2006

Of Thee I Don’t Sing

Personal Asides: Of Thee I Sing…Jim Leahy Responds to Jason…The Colbert Performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner…A Reader from Connecticut: How Did You Find Us?...Is it Heresy for a Catholic to Vote for the Protestant King James vs. the Church’s Biblical Translation?

Just in case you think a collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin on words and lyrics and legendary playwrights George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind couldn’t produce a musical turkey, it did, which I saw in inane revival last winter at Tony DeSantis’ Drury Lane: Of Thee I Sing, still gobbling stupidly when compassion required it be axed. I decided that ninety-year-old DeSantis, still bright as always, just wanted to remind us that old-time musicals were not always brilliant (in the same fashion that Chuck Schaden’s old time radio programs show that not all the hoary relics were good). Produced in 1931 when America wanted something to divert itself from the Depression, it was intended as a satire on politics. I guess it was produced as relief, sorely needed as catharsis (although you couldn’t prove it by me since I was three when it hit Broadway) for people wiped out by Wall Street collapse and bank closing. Hoover was many things—out-of-date, classically wrong-headed—but not one who didn’t know his own beliefs, nor was the country threatened by the inconsequentiality of his vice president, one Charles Curtis of Kansas, a former Congressman and U. S. Senator.

When I saw it last year, I gasped at the judgment that allowed it to return to the boards. The music and lyrics are inane: “Of Thee I Sing, Baby, You have got that certain zing, baby!” “Sing” and “zing”: how about that? And then the meaningless “I could be happy with you, if you could be happy with me!” Moreover the damned thing even won a Pulitzer prize where the only category it deserved was for sillyness. Was the Pulitzer jury drunk that day? Or do I stunningly fail to understand the satire?

It had no relevance for its 1930 debut. Hoover proved that incomparable traditional credentials were not enough. Though superbly equipped for normal times (brilliant engineer, World War I anti-hunger czar who fed the Belgians, secretary of commerce who initiated voluntary action) he was rooted in tradition and incapable of dealing with crises that challenged conventional wisdom: having signed the Smoot-Hawley protectionist tariff in 1930 which launched a trade war and ignored the fact that the high tariff discouraged world trade…an agricultural program that produced a chronic surplus of farm products, depressing farm prices…oblivious of credit restraints, especially in the securities industry where stocks could be purchased on 25% margin spurring a dizzying round of speculation). The so-called “satire” had no relevance for yesterday nor for today where terrorism demands that presidents re-write the book of rules that Franklin Roosevelt would follow.

Consider the plot: (1) Both parties resemble each other (not in 1930 where the Republican party was incompetent and the Democratic party at least had the instinct to toss the old rule book away)…(2) the big-wigs of an unknown named party have just met in the smoky backroom having picked a hollow know-nothing bachelor named John P. Wintergreen for the presidential nomination (an allusion to Warren Harding which, as history shows, was inapt) and a nonentity named Alexander Throttlebottom for vice president…(3) they vie to determine what Wintergreen stands for; at that point a chambermaid enters who sings that beyond money, all she yearns for is love…(4) the smoked-filled room gang decides to launch a national search for a wife for Wintergreen.

(5) They win the election on this kind of pap but while they are publicizing the search and casting about for the winner, Wintergreen begins to fall in love with his secretary because, it turns out, she knows how to bake the kind of corn muffins he loved in his youth. (6) The search winner is a smashing looker named Diana Devereux, of French nationality. All the while Vice President Throttlebottom is bored, with nothing to do. (7) Wintergreen determined to marry his secretary who bake corn muffins but that insults the French ambassador who regards the snubbing of Ms. Devereux as an insult to his nation.

I won’t continue to bore you with this tripe except to say that everything works out and the cast sings forgettable songs like “Who Cares?”—an apt title for the entire presentation. After the show, I saw a number of people threatening never to return to Drury Lane. I enraged some as we walked out by declaring loudly, “It was so good I would love to see it again!” whereupon a woman glared at me and shouted, “Are you crazy?” But sadly, this is not all. As I walked out of Drury Lane, I seriously considered that Gershwin, Kauffman and Ryskind fixed the Pulitzer prize jury. They must have! Well, I decided, it is a period piece that deserves obscurity.

Believe it or not, not so! Decadence has triumphed in that Of Thee I Sing has returned to Broadway and has received a stirring review from The New York Times. The stale jokes that didn’t fit the 1930s are declared relevant for the 21st century! Really? Even if liberals hate him, do we have trouble ascertaining what this president believes? Current liberal lore has Dick Cheney the maddened war-monger, not a Throttlebottom who is at a loss for something to do. Reviewer Charles Isherwood says the musical is “one of the silliest and yet most sublime things on a New York stage right now.” Had he stopped at “silliest” he’d be right. But I doubt if New Yorker theatre-goers will have the guts to demand their money back.

I can only conclude that the resurrection of this decayed Lazarus fits in to the low level of psychopathy that passes as au current drama now. After all, here in Chicago we have De Paul, a purported Catholic university adding an academic minor in what it calls “Queer Studies.” Queer is a word that homosexuals used to object to when applied to their orientation—now the word is raised to the dignity of a branch of study: evidence of homosexual self-hatred but on by a nominally religious school that sold out its convictions years ago and is content with pleasing the left even if it tosses insults that were vulgar a generation ago. “Queer Studies” has no relevance in any university worthy of the name because it tragically misses the mark. Of Thee I Sing had nothing to do with the presidency in 1932 and certainly is astoundingly irrelevant to the presidency, no matter how you view it, in 2006.


Jim Leahy, my spiritual son and executive director of the Republican Assembly of Illinois, has responded to a frequent contributor to his Blog, Jason. Jim tried to get his piece on Reader’s Comments but somehow couldn’t; therefore I’ll put it in this place. (Now I notice Jim has succeeded in getting other pieces into Reader’s Comments so the problem evidently has been fixed). Jason, as you know, is a severe critic of George W. Bush. He even calls the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression.”

Jim writes: I feel sorry for you [Jason] and others like you who look and see the end of America everywhere. Oh ye of little faith. Am I in support of the president on everything? No! I am against his stand on illegal aliens—but to say it’s his fault is just not plausible. The immigration problem started when law enforcement was stopped from doing its job: it is just that simple. I do disagree with your stand on the war. We were attacked! It was not some Neocon-made-up disaster. It was Islamic terrorists! The president went to Congress and was given the authority to fight this war the way he thinks it should be fought.

He was reelected by over four million votes; the American people gave him the job of running the war. I joined the U. S. Marine Corps in the late `70s to fight a war (against Islam) and we never did. Now it is going to be my son who has to fight. That is why I volunteered, so my son would not have to. If we don’t finish this war it will be my grandson or worse—my granddaughters—who will. These bastards have been at war with us since 1974. You can’t pretend this will go away and pull into Fortress America.

I don’t know if you served but if you go to the people who are fighting this war, they believe in the president’s view that the only way to stop them from fighting us here is to go after them over there. And your stand does not help the morale of the troops over there. There is plenty of evidence of Saddam’ support of terrorism there in new information that is coming out about exactly what prompted U. S. action against Saddam Hussein. The Pentagon commissioned an “after-action analysis report” on Iraq.

The 230-page book length report analyzed thousands of Iraqi documents. It interviews over 100 officials of Saddam’s regime. The report details Saddam’s active role in terrorist training camps runby the Fedayeen, establishment of Al Qaeda-like terrorist training camps run by the Fedayeen which “trained some 7,200 Iraqis in the art of terrorism in the first year alone.” By 1998, these camps were training jihadists from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and other Gulf states. In June, 2004, one year after the invasion of Iraq, Russian president Vladimir Putin made a stunning announcement that got virtually no coverage here in the United States.

Here is an excerpt from an Associated Press report: “Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday his government warned Washington that Saddam Hussein’s regime was preparing attacks on the United States and its interests abroad—an assertion that appears to bolster President Bush’s contention that Iraq was a threat…`After September 11, 2001 and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services …received information that officials from Saddam’s regime were preparing territorial attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests,’ Putin said.”

We now know—from captured Iraqi documents—that Putin was telling the truth. –Jim Leahy.

Note: Now that Jim has the ability to go to Reader’s Comments I’m sure he’ll respond to the reply that will certainly come from Jason. But if he has trouble, he, Jason and everybody else can correspond via


As an avid reader of Michael Miner’s “Hot Type” column in The Reader, I note his critique of newspapers which did not publish Stephen Colbert’s parody at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. Fair enough. Mike didn’t refer to the Washington Post column written by tough Bush critic Richard Cohen who thought Colbert’s speech was below-the-belt. Did Cohen’s paper publish the text before Cohen’s ridicule of it? And did Mike read Cohen? Just wondering what his take on it is…Frank Nofsinger and his wife live in what he calls “The People’s Republic of Connecticut.” Welcome! Tell us how you found this blog (and tell others to do the same!)…


I was musing at Mass Friday morning as I do every single morning of my life at the prosaic translation of the gospel we must hear—so pedestrian compared to the King James version. Protestant though it may be and in the past solemnly forbidden to us Catholics but King James is sublimely beautiful writing—perhaps because it is thought that one of its writers was Shakespeare (is that right, anyone?). Why is King James forbidden to Catholics anyhow? (Any Catholic theologians in the audience?) What specious heresy is contained therein? (Again, anyone?). I wondered and haven’t found an answer. Is it just because King James was a dissident, a rebel from Catholicism when he called to order a group of scholars in 1604 to reconcile the divergent Protestant groups that were tearing each other asunder since the time of Elizabeth? At any rate, compare the prosaic version we Catholics use today to the magisterial one you Protestants in the reading audience may rely upon: King James.

Current Catholic version--from John 14:1-6.:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

Dwelling places? Very awkward.

The New King James version—from John 14:1-6:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

“Many mansions.” Terrific. I grew up with “many mansions.” Most of us, Catholic or not, have been influenced by the masterly wording of the King James which in these passages makes a clear declaratory statement rather than putting into a question. You may wonder why I cite the “New King James version”—why not the original? The original would hobble us today because of the antique spelling. Take a look at these various translations—all from First Corinthians, Chapter 13:

Tyndale’s New Testament, 1534, the first to appear in English, one hundred years before the King James. Still pretty forceful despite its age:

Though I spake with the tonge of men and angels and yet had no love, I were even as soundinge brasse: or as a tynklynge Cymball.

But with the old spelling, pretty tough to put modern people today through that, huh? Now there’s

The Geneva Bible, 1560, translated on the continent by religious refugees, published from the accession of Elizabeth to the Civil War—the bible of Shakespeare, Cromwell, Milton (my favorite poet), Bunyan and the Pilgrim fathers:

Thogh I speake with the tongues of men and Angels , and haue not loue, I am as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal.

Now the one we all know and thrill to, the King James, 1611, assuredly the one Lincoln read from (and whose masterly cadence certainly influenced him to become one of the country’s great literary masters as well as great president):

Though I speake with the tongues of men & of Angels and haue not charity, I am become as sounding brasse or a tinkling cymbal.

You know, the ancient spelling even adds dignity, does it not?

Here’s the somewhat modernized King James (1984) containing contemporary English but preserving its old stateliness. And it’s not bad:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

I’m not nuts about the “clanging cymbal.” But it’s better than many others.

This is the one I grew up with as a kid, the Douay Version which the nuns ordered us to read and stay away from the King James (with translations stemming from the one done at Douai in 1609-10). The nuns said we’d be struck dead if we were caught with the Protestant King James. The official U.S. Catholic version of Douay was approved by James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore in the 19th century:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

Superb. We’re back to “tinkling cymbal.” It was the one I stuck with until college when strictures were somewhat loosed and a popular version came out translated by the venerable British canon, Msgr.Ronald Knox (1944). It’s the family bible in which we have recorded the births of our four kids and 13 granechildren:

I may speak with every tongue that men and angels use; yet, if I lack charity, I am no better than echoing bronze or the clash of cymbals.

“Clash of cymbals” leaves me cold. Now it’s out of print. But in contrast to the King James 1611 and Douay (1609) I don’t like it at all. Here’s the Navarre Bible (1990), translation from the University of Navarre in Spain. It’s the bible to which I am extremely partial since it reflects the scholarly work of Opus Dei to which I, though not a member, (our daughter Mary, is) am quite close:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

“Clanging cymbal.” Still not right to me. Doesn’t have the resonance of King James, does it? Finally The New American Bible, St. Joseph’s edition, approved by the U. S. Catholic Conference, 1986:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

Don’t like “clashing cymbal” either. Still like King James, even with the speake and haue although I’d prefer the New King James. There are later Catholic and Protestant versions but you get the flavor. Now your turn: what do you prefer, if any? Agnostics and atheists welcome.

Why the Re-Cast of Wolf Blitzer and Bill Schneider to Lincoln and Washington?

Because the liberal colloquy they have on Iraq and George W. Bush’s low poll standing reflects their extreme all-is-lost conventional wisdom—that anything that goes against the heavy liberal media flow is disaster. The first piece I did, Lincoln on the Civil War, showed that the conventional wisdom was very much against Lincoln (as reader David Graf, a direct descendent of a Union soldier pointed out). Indeed, as David says, Lincoln wrote a letter before the 1864 election that tilted heavily to his being defeated.

But the fact is, that Lincoln was right not just because he ended up right after General Sherman took Atlanta: Lincoln was right because he would not give up until the Union was saved, even when things looked very bleak. General Grant was more than just a boozer who would occasionally go off on a toot; latest research has shown that he was an alcoholic to whose camp Lincoln sent an emissary who was supposed to spy on: an emissary who perceived Grant as the drunkard he was and actively worked to keep him sober! General Sherman was a bi-polar mental case who, when his patrons brought him in to see Lincoln to get a commission as an officer, had a sudden nervous breakdown and begged Lincoln not to allow him a major command! Lincoln, however, saw Sherman’s strengths that placed him under Grant where the two formed an indispensable team that won victory!

The point of the exercise on Grant and Washington is to take the approach Schneider has used on Bush and apply it to both Lincoln and Washington. In case my bias isn’t clear, I’ll state it now: George W. Bush will, in my estimation, go down in history as one of our greatest presidents—because he has the fortitude to stand up to unparalleled media criticism. And Blitzer and Schneider come close hoping things will go badly in Iraq because they despise Bush. A clear change in news attitude from the era when reportage was at least pulling for the United States to win. Blitzer and Schneider actually sound like some of the mainstream media in the Civil War.


  1. Tom-
    As longtime subscribers to The Wanderer, we have enjoyed your articles, and through them noticed your BLOG address. Keep up the great work!

  2. I'm sure others will contibute the full answer, but as I recall the King James Version contains less books in the Old Testament, (i.e. omits Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, Wisdom, Baruch, etc. Further their Ecclesiasticus is our Sirac).

    I certainly agree on the beauty of the old English. We have used the Jerusalem Bible for over thirty years. It is the best of both worlds, in my opinion. RC approved, beautiful language, and well researched.

  3. I'm sure others will contibute the full answer, but as I recall the King James Version contains less books in the Old Testament, (i.e. omits Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, Wisdom, Baruch, etc. Further their Ecclesiasticus is our Sirac).

    I certainly agree on the beauty of the old English. We have used the Jerusalem Bible for over thirty years. It is the best of both worlds, in my opinion. RC approved, beautiful language, and well researched.

  4. I'm sure others will contibute the full answer, but as I recall the King James Version contains less books in the Old Testament, (i.e. omits Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, Wisdom, Baruch, etc. Further their Ecclesiasticus is our Sirac).

    I certainly agree on the beauty of the old English. We have used the Jerusalem Bible for over thirty years. It is the best of both worlds, in my opinion. RC approved, beautiful language, and well researched.

  5. I've already posted comments suggesting that, though enjoyable, your Blitzer parody of Lincoln analysis doesn't quite compare with current criticisms of Bush as Lincoln went after the attackers of the Union rather than getting sidetracked by bad (or cherry-picked) intelligence. That said, I hope your readers and listeners get a chance to visit the Lincoln White House exhibit in Springfield to hear the critical gossip of the time presented throughout the Lincoln White House walking tour.

  6. Tom, I sent an email with my response and I hope you have the chance to publish it. Thanks for keeping this blog and a spirited debate among conservatives alive - both here and on your program.

  7. The English version of the Navarrre Bible uses the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, as does Ignatius Press in its "Ignatius Bible".

  8. I'm currently enjoying Richmond Lattimore's translation of the Four Gospels. Lattimore was a poet and classical Greek translator. His prose translation of John has a sparse, unflourished beauty to it. Here's him on John:

    "Let your hearts not be disturbed. Believe in God and believe in me. In my father's house there are many rooms. Were there not, I would have said to you that I was going to make ready a place for you."


  9. I don't know from what oriface you pulled "latest research shows that Grant was a drunk, etc." Also, Sherman was a bit different in his early years, but his own men, when sent out on picket, were said to always be glad to get back to "Shermany." His prime CSA adversary, Joseph E. Johnston, attended Sherman's funeral in the Winter in Chicago, and caught the chill that killed him. Talk about respect-

    Honest Abe, when told that Grant was a drunk, said "Find out what whiskey he drinks, and send a barrel to every one of my generals!"

    Those two saved the Union, drunk or sober, or a bit eccentric.

    I had a g grandfather in the 8th & 17th IL Vol Infantry. Two of his older brothers died of Tyfoid at Young's Point, LA.

    My 1st Cousin 3x removed was 2nd Ltn., CO D, 11th VA VOL Inf. Promoted after Gettysburg, where they enjoyed Pickett's Charge. Have numerous CSA ancestral relatives. They were generally simple Swiss farmers or tinners, and none owned a slave.