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Robert A. Mills

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STAND PAT
9/18/2010 6:19:50 AM
Last June 2 President Barack Obama visited Carnegie-Mellon University and told them, “We cannot stand pat while the world races by.”

I mention this only because, coincidentally, “stand pat” was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day in July, and it’s meaning, among other things, is “to oppose or resist change.”

Purists say 5-Card Draw Poker is the classic, most genuine card game, and it was what Wild Bill Hickok was playing at Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, SD back in 1876 when he was shot dead. Legend has it that Hickok was holding a pair of Aces and a pair of Eights, all black, plus a Queen of clubs-—known thereafter as the “Dead Man’s Hand.” The Queen was his “kicker,” which he would have discarded in hopes of drawing an Ace or an Eight, resulting in a Full House.

Playing 5-Card Draw Poker, you could be dealt a Full House-—say, three Aces and two Kings. If so, it would behoove you to “stand pat,” as you can be beat by only Four of a Kind or a Royal (or Straight) Flush-—and odds are a hundred zillion to one an opponent might possess such.

Of course, you could stupidly discard one of your pair (or both) in hopes of drawing the fourth of your three-of-a-kind, but the odds of that are even worse (a zillion trillion to one.) Maybe Wild Bill was contemplating tossing away the Queen and an Eight to draw a couple more Aces, and his murder would have been justifiable homicide.

“Stand pat.”

What began as Poker jargon took on a deeper meaning by entering the political arena circa 1900 to mean opposition to recommended changes in our tariff policy, a sore issue at the time (like it still isn’t?)

Today, if you resist or oppose change that matters, you are a “standpatter,” and if you are reluctant to take positive action you are considered a proponent of “standpattism.” Not exactly romantic verbiage, but they are perfectly good English words. (Brush up your Shakespeare.)

President Obama, unlike the majority of his peers from either party, has a penchant for erudite expression designed to illuminate rather than befuddle. Sadly, he is besieged by standpatters who thrive on practicing standpattism. Congress and certain citizen “parties” are apparently full of them.

Ironically, a few days later, Merriam-Webster offered another Word of the Day: “perfidious”. This adjective, juxtaposed with stand pat, caught my attention.

Perfidious means faithlessness, treacherous and disloyal.
Would it be fair to suggest that standpatters who practice standpattism are perfidious? Certainly there has to be some valid assortment of reasons that has caused President Obama’s popularity to plummet in the polls.

Blaming him for everything from the economy to the BP oil fiasco to an epidemic of bed bugs are, of course, reasons enough, but his sins must be more devious and widespread than that. (Maybe, though, not as widespread as an oil slick or as devious as nocturnal insects and unemployment.)

FDR, according to even superficial research, had more detractors than any president since Andrew Jackson, but somehow the Scion of Hyde Park managed to get elected four times. George Washington himself took so much abuse he was tempted to resign; during his first term, the Father of Our Country came that close to chucking it all out the isin-glass window. Also, it’s no secret that a besieged Thomas Jefferson thought seriously of throwing in the towel when his own perfidious standpatters habitually attacked him.

Historians cannot count the times Abraham Lincoln, with tears in his eyes, asked Salmon Chase, “What more do they want of me?” He was referring to his own party’s ad hoc caucuses that made it clear they preferred Vice President Hannibal Hamlin to the Great Emancipator. (Was it spite that led Lincoln to drop Hamlin in 1864 and choose a Southerner and Democrat as his running mate? Yes, Andrew Johnson was both.)

Even Ronald the Divine Reagan had to overcome the “nuclear president” onslaught.

So now, here’s Barack Obama, in office less than half his first term, and already the standpatters are screaming for his head. And why? The man has aggrivated the ire of his opposition because he is doing his damnedest to salvage a tattered nation with the hope and change it has been so blatantly denied for decades.

Seven years into a war that should have been over in seven days once the ignominy of deception was discovered—-and now that the American way of life is wallowing in the muck and mire of a collapsed economy, beset by natural calamities, invaded by foreigners looking to us for their own necessary brand of hope and change, the response so far by the whiners and maligners is to castigate the only hope we have for change-—the first to come along since . . . since . . . I can’t remember when (I lie; I remember FDR as if it were yesterday.)

Is the answer to our national dilemma to openly hope for change again from the intrinsic hope for change we already have chosen and see ripening on the vine-—or is it the insane desire to return somehow to the status quo that was dividing our Union from a nation indivisible to a land that no longer offered life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

(Or is it truly just the purfuit of happineff?)

We are a people who have always wanted our cake without the need to ingest it. With unabashed pride, we want, like cheese, to stand alone (but not necessarily pat;) we want the world to see us as unified and unique, unable to be deterred from a stance of solid purpose. These are things to which we, unlike any other nation on earth, have an unalienable right to seek and expect. Sadly, however, many of us have allowed our standpattism to clutter our insights and get in the way.

President Obama is not FDR. Nor is he Abraham Lincoln or Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson or even Ronald Reagan. But he is vulnerable and he is human, as they all were. He has and will make mistakes. Some of the people around him will say and do things that will make many of us shutter and grimace. Events are going to occur, which, as Thomas Paine predicted, will try men’s souls.

But there will be other times—-many others-—when because of him, our duly elected Commander in Chief, we can lift up our chins and say, “Hey, not bad, way to go, Barack!”

And yet, the whiners and maligners are among us. Be kind to them; assure them that everything will turn out all right. They deserve pity, not recrimination. After all, nothing could be worse for an American than to be thought of as a perfidious standpatter.

Merriam-Webster recently had even more disturbing thoughts: “Sarah Palin sent this message out on Twitter on July 18: ‘Ground Zero mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.’ [Refudiate?] This shot refudiate to the top of the [word heap] for the summer. Is it a word—-or a malaprop?

“Well, for starters, refudiate is not [even a word] in the dictionary.

Then there was the controversy over subsequent ‘tweets’ from Gov. Palin, first changing refudiate to repudiate, and then defending her coinage, invoking Shakespeare: ‘English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!’ [Say what?]

“Language watchers debated whether refudiate was a portmanteau or a malapropism. The blend is easy to figure out (refute or refuse + repudiate). But what's the story on malapropism?

“Malapropism . . . recognizes the comedic character Mrs. Malaprop, who appeared in Richard Sheridan's 1775 play ‘The Rivals.’ Mrs. Malaprop's name echoes the adjective malapropism meaning ‘in an inappropriate or inopportune way’ and derived from the French phrase with that meaning (mal à propos).

In the play, she misspeaks so laughably that the word malapropism came to refer to ‘a usually humorous misapplication of a word or phrase,’ or, more specifically, to ‘the blundering use of a word that sounds somewhat like the one intended but is usually ludicrously wrong in the context.’

For example, Mrs. Malaprop declared one fellow ‘the very pineapple of politeness’ where most people would have chosen the word pinnacle. And she declared ‘If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue and a nice derangement of epitaphs.’

“An example of a malapropism is also called a ‘malaprop’.”

If Ms. Palin wishes to be a leader, please forward this to her with the suggestion she brush up on her Merriam-Webster’s. Or, as The Daily Beast suggests, leave ‘tweeting’ to ninth-grade cheerleaders.


Copyright©2010 by Robert A. Mills


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