September 6, 2010

You Lie Like a Rug?

As part of the recent redecoration of the Oval Office, a new carpet was installed; the rug includes inspirational quotes the President is fond of sewn into the border. The quotes (and their attributions):

 • "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself," President Franklin D. Roosevelt 

• "The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Towards Justice," Martin Luther King Jr. 

• "Government of the People, By the People, For the People," President Abraham Lincoln

• "No Problem of Human Destiny is Beyond Human Beings," President John F. Kennedy

 • "The Welfare of Each of Us is Dependent Fundamentally Upon the Welfare of All of Us," President Theodore Roosevelt


There’s been a bit of a stink that the quote attributed to King is really not his – when he used it back in the 1950s, he was paraphrasing Theodore Parker, a minister, abolitionist, and all around good guy of the 1800s, who used similar but less concise language in talking about the abolition of slavery.

Interestingly, I can’t find much uproar surrounding the Lincoln attribution, which is another of Parker’s quotes, from a speech he gave in 1850. Parker himself took the line from John Wycliffe, who used it this way: “This bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people” sometime in the late 1300’s. Even righteous entertainer Glenn Beck quoted Lincoln’s use of the “…of the…by the…for the…” at his Sermon by the Reflecting Pool, and failed to mention either Theodore Parker or John Wycliffe. Must be it’s OK for Beck and Lincoln to paraphrase, without attribution, but not OK for Martin Luther King.

In the overall scheme of things, the new décor is pretty far down on the list of things we need to be worrying about, but you gotta love it when something as inconsequential as a new color scheme in the Oval Office can generate this much half-baked controversy.