Alex Massie

Obama as William Jennings Bryan?

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Former Bush speechwriter David Frum publishes an entertaining provocation here:

Sen. Barack Obama's admirers sometimes compare him to John F. Kennedy, sometimes to Ronald Reagan, sometimes to Abraham Lincoln. (That is, when they are not comparing him to Jesus Christ.)

But is not the most apposite analogy ... William Jennings Bryan*?

Like Obama, Bryan was a charismatic young political (just 36 at the time of his first presidential run!)  with a thin political record. Yet on the strength of one legendary speech at a Democratic national convention, he was clutched to heart by the party's left wing and made the repository of its grandest hopes on a whole range of so-called progressive causes.

Fun! And perhaps unfair!

Mind you, when I hear Bryan's name I'm less likely to think of his serial-loser status (he won the Democratic nomination three times, in 1896, 1900, 1908) than his sad end as counsel for the World Christian Fundamentals Counsel denying the Theory of Evolution at the now-notorious Scopes Trial in Tennessee in 1925.

If one may be permitted (unfairly*) to suppose that Bryan's views might have remained unaltered were he alive today then perhaps he'd be a member of the Republican Party now? Too bad they hadn't brewed-up "intelligent design" back then...

PS: I don't mean to tweak Mr Frum too much. His blog is often provocative, sometimes infuriating but always interesting. He's also a rather fine literary critic. His David's Bookshelf series is marvelous (most recent entry, this lengthy item on George Eliot) and always rewards close attention. It's some shame that this stuff doesn't have a wider audience. Anyway his blog is well-worth your time.

*Bryan was also a scold, mind you, decrying the people's right to intoxication and the free enjoyment of what are now prohibited narcotics.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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