Randolph was a slave-owning elegantly dressed ‘fashionista’, described by one author as “The most notorious American political curmudgeon of his time”. That may be putting it kindly. John Randolph specialized in what the Romans called the “Argumentum Ad Hominem” or the ‘argument against the man’. As a verbal tool it allows the speaker to change the subject by tarring a political position with the alleged sins of its advocates, and forcing the advocates to defend themselves. And if that method of attack sounds familiar, it is confirmation of the connection between Randolph’s ideological bloodline and its present practitioners, like Karl Rove. John Quincy Adams borrowed from Ovid to describe John Randolph; “His face is ashen, gaunt his whole body, His breath is green with gall; His tongue drips poison.” It is a fair description of the “…abusive eloquence which he possessed in such abundance”. Either description could have been used for Mr. Rove by his opponents.
It is a shame that both of those distinguished blood lines are now being excised from the Republican Party in preference to the “Joe the Plumber” template. The idea that a dumb, uneducated heterosexual conservative is preferable to a smart homosexual conservative is akin to abandoning a talking dog because you don’t like the way he pronounces “Béarnaise sauce”. “Joe” and his supporters remind me of the words of British Prime Minster Lloyd George who said of one opponent; “He has a retail mind in a wholesale business.” Or, to paraphrase John Selden, ignorance of the law may be no excuse, but ignorance in general is inexcusable.Randolph’s first biographer, Lemuel Sawyer, described him this way; “As an orator he was more splendid than solid; as a politician he (lacked) the profound views of a great statesman, and a larger stock of patience, gentleness, and pliability…he was too intolerant…” But John Randolph admitted to enjoying “That most delicious of all privileges – spending other people’s money.” He was elected to congress at 26 years of age in 1799 and served off and on in both houses (as well as in the Virginia State legislature) until his death. He never married, and admitted “I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality." And in describing his chosen career Randolph observed that “If electioneering were allowed in heaven, it would corrupt the angels.” As if to prove his point, in 1824 Randolph turned his cutting tongue loose on Speaker of the House, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (below). Randolph gave the most important speech of his life on the floor of the U.S. Senate which was described by one author as “rambling, sometimes incoherent, funny, insulting and devastating….filled with literary and classical allusions, among other odds and ends, and delivered with a delightful insouciance.”
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