How to Read Tom Frank (If You Must).

Despite having triggered these sequential booms in Lincolniana, Team of Rivals is uninspiring to the point of boredom  [Whoa! – ed.]. It is not only a retelling of the most familiar story in American history but also a fairly dreary one [Emph. added both times, in case you didn’t “get it” – ed.]. Goodwin’s account doesn’t provoke or startle with insight [Damn!  It just … like … “doesn’t”? – ed]. Most of what she tells us has been told us before [No shit?  How’d it get to be “us,” BTW? – ed.] — many, many times [Wow — that’s a LOT! – ed.]. Indeed, the theme song from Ken Burns’s The Civil War played involuntarily in my head [Dude — you can get meds for that, y’know! – ed.] as I read, again [“Again” — yeah, o.k., we get it.  You’ve been around, seen it all before, blah-blah-blah. – ed.], about the election of 1860, the Peninsula Campaign, the maneuvering in Washington over emancipation.

Goodwin’s hypothesis, if she can be said to have one [Whoa!  “ZING”!  I can all but hear you cracking up to yourself, as you write this, reliving those halcyon days of yore, back in 7th grade, when your teacher let you “crack wise” in your take-home journal assignment.  How fucking liberating!  Oh what a feeling!  (etc., etc.,) -ed.], is that the successes of the Lincoln Administration were not a one-man accomplishment [Holy shit — thanks for “de-naïving” us, O Learned One! – ed.]. No, the president had help [Yuk Yuk! – ed.], and he knew how to motivate people [BOY do you love to “characterize” books, w/o all that pesky business of “quoting” from them.  (I mean really — who needs THAT shit, right?  Guide us, oh snarkier-than-thou one, GUIDE US!!!) – ed.]. It was Lincoln plus Secretary of State William Seward; Lincoln plus Attorney General Edward Bates; Lincoln plus Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase (you know, the man on the $10,000 bill)  [Haw haw — there might even be a POINT there! -ed.]. Do you get it, reader? [No — but insult us by purporting to tell us, as though we need to know, Mr. Subtle-as-a-Sledgehammer, and oh-so-hipper-than-those-silly-masses one! -ed.]  The Civil War was a team effort, in which men who didn’t really like each other — political rivals, even — held important government jobs  [“Bigotry” was also rampant — particularly since it wasn’t yet defined as such — which made it, in the best possible way of thinking of it, an uphill climb.  “Emancipation,” that is.  Which seemed … odd, to certain folks, still unaware of electricity, Einstein’s Relativity Theorems, an average life expectancy beyond age 45 (or so), and treating “niggers” as other than, say, “human cattle.”[*]  But, that’s o.k. — “20/20 hindsight snark” is, shall we say, your “métier,” n’est-ce pas?  Great.  Great great great . . . ed.].

One cavil you might raise is that this isn’t much of a revelation [Or, that it’s hard to imagine ANY book would have so reductive a thesis as you’ve “summarized” this one’s, five-dollar-words, like “cavil,” or not. – ed.], since big wars are generally fought by national unity governments [This is all but inexpressive.  Only a 7th-grader would try to pull such vague crap, as this.  I mean, really … WHAT??? – ed.]. Nor is the “team of rivals” concept an innovation of the early 1860s, though Goodwin assures us it is [We both have to take your word for it on this, and care (that it, uh, “matters”), both at the same time, without “establishing” either, which is, really, just too much to ask.  Why don’t you … oh, I don’t know … go fuck yourself with a knife?  Thanks!  – ed.]. As the historian James Oakes [Now HE’S a “historian”!  And — equally “clearly” — so are YOU, for “citing” him!  (Okay, okay — we can see it coming a mile away, so we “get it,” alright? Sheesh! Try turning down “the microphone” next time, you would-be wordsmith!) -ed.] pointed out in 2008, administrations incorporating the president’s adversaries were standard stuff in the early nineteenth century. [“Adversaries,” as too-loosely used, here, must mean: “sworn enemies, on every single issue, up and down the board, regardless of what.”  Huh?  And standard “stuff”?  It’s an embarrassing gaffe — how is it “stuff” conveys ANYTHING at ALL?  Lastly, as an over-loaded, impossible, inarticulable, non-defined claim, I mean … what reason is there, that it WASN’T happening, in the late 18th-century, when this country was founded?  From the very first Continental Congress, onward?  You’ve kinda backed yourself into a corner here, boyo … IOW: why, as you (implictly) assert, did this practice START in “the early nineteenth century,” huh?  Try meaning what you say — and/or saying what you mean — next time, instead of just conveying the “thrill” of “getting away with it”: bashing an (allegedly) “fair-game” target (i.e., one that’s too “popular” to be taken “seriously) — I mean, what are you: the One-Man High School Clique that never was, making up for it, much later in life?  For reals!  Seek therapy! Get over … uh … whatever-it-is! – ed.]  They have been fairly common in our own time as well [HOW “common” is that … bitch??? – ed.]. During the Great Depression, for example, Franklin Roosevelt hired prominent men from the opposition to fill cabinet posts, and almost every subsequent president has followed suit.  [It’s amazing — that “knack” you have, for appearing to “cite” things (w/o textual references, of course) that are, in fact, just barely-less-vague vagaries than the ones they’re purporting to “back up.”  Well, just as well, it’s on to the next paragraph, anyway, right?  

Not me.

I’m “checking out,” here – ed.]



[*]So the District Supervisor calls me in and puts the old white schmaltz down on me:

“Now kid what are you doing over there with the niggers and the apes?  Why don’t you straighten out and act like a white man? – After all they’re only human cattle – You know that yourself – Hate to see a bright young man fuck up and get off on the wrong track – Sure it happens to all of us one time or another – Why the man who went on to invent Shitola was sitting right where you’re sitting now twenty-five years ago and I was saying the same things to him – Well he straightened out the way you’re going to straighten out – Yes sir that Shinola combined with an ape diet – All we have to do is press the button and a hundred million more or less gooks flush down the drain in green cancer piss – That’s big isn’t it? – And any man with white blood in him wants to be part of something big – You can’t deny your own blood kid – You’re white white white – And you can’t walk out on Trak – There’s just no place to go.”

Most distasteful thing I ever stood still for – enough to make a girl crack her calories – So I walk out and the lid blew off –

[from “Chapter 13: WHERE YOU BELONG” from William S. Burroughs’s The Soft Machine (1961)]


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