austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Tradition that is old, a reluctance to be bold

[ Wait, Livejournal's new comment page is on purpose? I thought it was the servers doing their best to carry on something despite a massive DDOS attack. ]

So, my ``Publius'' story. Publius was the pseudonym used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay for writing the Federalist Papers, of course. But that trivia mentioned in passing as the high school history textbook compressed the debate over ratification of the constitution into one paragraph, the better to have space later on to omit all the interesting parts of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty negotiations.

Where I first noticed the name was in the editorial page for my undergraduate university's daily newspaper. For that year's effort at finding a suitable Conservative Voice they rounded up a trio who hoped to meet the exactingly halfhearted schedules of undergraduate editorial-page columnist work. They, too, billed themselves as ``Publius'' for the official credit, and posed for a picture of the three standing back-to-back, barely large enough to be made out. They achieved that perfect sort of undergraduate-journalism comedy, and you can imagine how a trio writing in the first-person singular based on a riff that the audience would barely have recognized went down. The only reason people quote, or pretend to quote, historical figures is to imply having authority supporting their argument, after all. (I'll be doing it next time I'm in an online argument which justifies pulling out Hamilton or Madison.) And here nobody got what the authority was supposed to be. (This was years before even Alta Vista, for crying out loud, or Doctor Fun, a time when the library actually had a help desk to call and answer questions like ``who wrote The Great Gatsby'' if you woke up at 4 am and couldn't think who it was and suddenly that was the most important thing to know ever, and the desk didn't open until 7:00 so you were doomed.) After a couple columns they began running a ``what does the name mean'' paragraph, but it didn't stop giggles.

When it came time for my, weekly, paper's spoof issue that term the natural mock-up of the daily had to include a ``Publius'' column. For the author's picture naturally we lined up the whole staff of our paper, as well as a couple folks from the daily who we were friends with, and took a group shot. I don't profess this to be the cleverest idea in the world, but then, the source column was weak even by the standards of editorial column-writing.

Plus, through the mysterious ways of newspaper politics, although I worked on the newspaper for four years and pretty near ran it (as Managing Editor, rather than Editor in Chief) about three years, that picture was the only photo of me to ever make it in the paper. It ran twice, once in that spoof issue, and then a couple years later as part of a house ad inviting people to join the fun of the newspaper, inspired by someone who found the old photograph laying around and thought it bizarrely funny when you didn't know why such an artifact was created.

Trivia: James Madison entered college in Princeton in 1769; Aaron Burr was a classmate. Source: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, Joseph J Ellis.

Currently Reading: The Federalist Papers, Editors Charles R Kesler, Clinton Rossiter.

PS: Mid-Course Correction 1, Continued, more of that navel-gazing that's so much more fun.


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