Presidents and PoetsPrint
By Robert Wilson
In our lead story, Edwin M. Yoder Jr. points out that the media focus too much on the president, compared with the Congress and the Supreme Court, in part because it is more compelling to cover one person than nine or 535. The Scholar exists at best in the far precincts of what anyone thinks of as the media, but three stories in this issue do add to the glut by touching on the presidency, while mostly managing to avoid the dispiriting current presidential campaign.
In “The Clintons Up Close,” Yoder and his wife, Jane Warwick Yoder, write about their friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, recalling the former president’s best qualities, while also putting us on the scene at two of his most serious self-inflicted crises. “Too Big to Fail and Too Risky to Exist,” by William J. Quirk, warns how little has changed since the financial meltdown of 2008. If anything, the banks, which are not only bigger but richer than ever, are behaving even more destructively than they did before the crisis, and the government’s willingness and ability to restrain them seem as weak as ever. Although the seeds for the crisis, both in housing and in banking, were sown during the Clinton years, it’s hard not to be a bit nostalgic for a time when they were only seeds and not the carnivorous plants they are today. Ed Yoder also reminds us that “Americans tend to think better of their presidents when they’re well out of office.” The most dramatic example of this is Abraham Lincoln, so often and so inexplicably scorned while president. Louis P. Masur recounts in “Liberty Is a Slow Fruit” Lincoln’s progress toward the Emancipation Proclamation, issued preliminarily 150 years ago. Lincoln moved with glacial speed, but also glacial force, managing to frustrate abolitionists and inflame the Border States at the same time. But he brought enough of the country along that, Masur writes, the proclamation was sustainable once he put it into effect.
This issue is also thick with poets. As usual, poetry editor Langdon Hammer presents a featured poet, Angie Estes, and adds a bonus poem by Linda Pastan. David J. Wasserstein offers a comprehensive look at the life and work of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. We have poets writing about other things as well: Maxine Kumin on recently rediscovered love letters she exchanged with her future husband; Christian Wiman with a deeply felt, powerful essay on his struggles with illness and faith; N. S. Thompson on an early film collaboration between W. H. Auden and Benjamin Britten; and David Lehman with a back-to-school send-up of a student essay. In the crush of presidents and poets stands a single philosopher, Arthur C. Danto, who in his “Letter to Posterity” emulates … a poet, Petrarch, offering, as the great Italian sonneteer did under the same title, a memoir of his life and work.
Robert Wilson is the editor of the SCHOLAR and the author of Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation.