Leave George Washington’s Thighs Alone

Listen to this episode

S1: The following recording may contain explicit language I can’t get more explicit than May with literal say it may.

S2: It’s Friday, February 21st, 2020 from Slate’s The Gist. I’m Mike PESCA. The incoming head of National Intelligence got his job because the outgoing head of national intelligence said something Trump didn’t like. In fact, he didn’t say it. His underlings said it, but she was authorized to say it off with their heads.

Advertisement

S1: And that thing that thing that shouldn’t have been said, according to Trump, is, of course, the thing at the very center of Trump’s ongoing, never ending, ever loving fight between Trump and his agencies. It’s that the Russians, they are a hack.

S3: And once again, CNN reports the president was angry with acting director of National Intelligence Joseph McGuire following the meeting, according to a White House official. President Trump then forced out McGuire, replacing him with Richard Grenell, a fierce game partisan Trump loyalist and current U.S. ambassador to Germany.

S1: Oh, excellent credentials and a great reason for a personnel change. Representative Devin Nunez, who was in the intelligence briefing, said on Fox he didn’t believe it. He just didn’t believe it. He’s not buying it.

Advertisement

S4: All this is, is they don’t have anything to run on. And so they’ve got to make up Russia again.

S5: Nunez further added These are new paranoid reports which toward deep regret will continue to grow in numbers as the election day approaches. Naturally, they have nothing to do with the truth. Oh, I’m sorry, that wasn’t Nunez. Good. Ben. It was Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. No relation. Now, in rejecting the information that Russia is upping its election interference game and by the way, what are they doing? They’re using servers within the U.S. to evade certain security protocols. Also, they are said to have infiltrated Iran’s cyber warfare unit with the intent of launching attacks that might look like they’re coming from Tehran. OK. So that’s some stuff going on. Remember, Nuna says doesn’t believe any of this. So what happened was a staffer told the Intel Committee that this was going on because it’s good, credible intelligence and because, of course, we should know. And then Joseph McGuire was the head of the intelligence agency, gets axed by Trump for authorizing this information to be imparted, this vital, essential information to be imparted to the very people who need this vital, essential information. Now, who’s Joseph McGuire? Remember, this guy was the hand-picked director because he’s only there because Trump got rid of the old national intel head, Dan Coats, because Dan Coats was disloyal. Then Trump could have picked Sue Gordon, who was the longtime deputy director and seen by experts as the logical choice. But she was not picked because it was questioned whether she would be loyal. We should also note that Joseph McGuire had no direct intelligence experience, but Trump liked him because of McGuire’s military background. He was a SEAL Team 6 commander, but he was ousted, as was Dan Coats, who was a stalwart Republican senator for 18 years. All of these loyal Republicans or loyal military men could not be loyal to the even greater cause. That is Donald Trump. This is big. This is huge. But it’s hard to think that any consequence will befall. The president, I’ve got to admit, as much as I was disgusted by this story, I was attracted to some other thing Trump did and said it was great comedy fodder. He was speaking before a festival crowd and he he played Oscar critic.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: How bad were the Academy Awards this year? You said. And the winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give him the best movie of the year. Was it good? I no doubt.

S5: And it had this whole plan to riff on the ridiculousness of Trump weighing in on parricide bomb.

S7: Jun Ho Snowpiercer was destroyed in editing. They say, people say, but you do see glimpses of the film. It could have been.

S5: I had. I had this whole plan. I’d go trompe Auskick. Why? Greta Gerwig say little women. But I can’t. Why? But you know, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to do that. Cause a people hate when I do voices, especially Trump. Trump’s pretty terrible. I’ll admit that.

Advertisement

S1: But B, we have to keep our eye on the critical issues with the president and not with the president issuing a criticism. The Russians are hacking again and anyone who tries to raise a concern is getting fired. The Russians have found in Trump a vector for their goals. They plan to tuck their policies inside his re-election efforts and to spread the rot from within. He is a host and they are nothing more than a very serious national security threat. There’s my point on the show today. The spiel is given over to an N10 twig that bit of and tend to agree so necessary in these troubled times. But first, my sons just came back from Mount Vernon. You know what? They were taken with a little structure off to the side called the dung repository. They made songs about now I wish I’d known that when I talked to my next guest, historian Alexis COH, who has reconsidered everything about George Washington except maybe the dung part here. Now talking about her book. You never forget your first, a biography of George Washington. Alexis Koe.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: If you achieve greatness on a college football field, you might be given the Heisman Award. Well, there is a new award. It is the Thigh Man of History Award, the thigh man of history. Are those who looked at George Washington thighs and said, my what specimens they are, what mighty hammocks. This is an observation of Alexis. She is the author of You Never Forget Your First, A Biography of George Washington, a biography that informed and substance tries to do something that no biography of George Washington has ever done. And I would say she does it successfully. Hello, Alexis. Thanks for coming on. Thank you for having me. Why? Why are all these male historians so damn obsessed with the man’s thighs?

Advertisement

S9: At first I thought that it was hero worship. I thought maybe they were into him. I looked at different portraits of founding fathers and their thighs, and they’re nice. But Hamiltons are also very nice. And it’s inappropriate anyway for us to be commenting on his thighs anymore than we would a woman’s. We have to, you know, be uniform when we’re applying these standards. It has to do with his virility. It has to do with his masculinity. But the thing that always struck me as odd when I would approach Washington biographies and I always read presidential biographies, at least three in conversation, so you can really emerge with a strong sense of the person is that they worshiped him to the point where they just couldn’t see anything else. It’s not just the thighs. They start out their books in the exact same manner. They say he’s too marble to be real. I’m going to humbly endeavor to break him free. And then they proceed in the exact same manner. So if you’ve got a thousand page book, if that’s your deal and you’re spending 20 pages talking about his thighs and how manly he was, and even though he didn’t have children, it was totally OK because he was definitely masculine.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: There’s something weird going on as much as historians obsessed with the size from everything that I read. His stature, meaning his actual height was really important then. And same guy, six inches shorter, wouldn’t have been the father of the country. I get the impression.

S9: Absolutely. If you’ll notice Madison, Adams, all the other guys who were slightly you guys. Yes, slightly. A smaller stature, often described as being annoying. And I do think it’s really significant that Washington was 6 2. He had the glory and was tall also.

S1: Yeah. Doesn’t get an Adams was the annoying wanted. Jefferson was a lot of things, but he wasn’t called annoying.

Advertisement

S9: Washington is an athlete and I don’t know why. We can’t just say he was graceful. He was like an athlete. The thing that Washington clearly had, the quality that all these historians spend, you know, hundreds of pages trying to describe is the thing we can’t describe now of a person you meet at a party, which is that they’re charismatic. He was charismatic. It’s very hard to capture. At one point.

S1: I just say that we have to take the word without seeming to show the effort. He wasn’t seen as trying too hard. Obviously, you chronicle all the ways that he strategized how to win friends and influence people. But yeah, he let the action come to him and he could because he towered over most people of his day.

Advertisement

S9: And he was also incredibly controlled, not just because he liked to keep his cards close to his chest. He was self-conscious. He worried that his education next to all these guys who went to Harvard and the College of William and Mary, all these people who were known as things brilliant diplomats that he, you know, who had to drop out of school when he was still an adolescent, that he was deficient and his dentures were super uncomfortable. And he didn’t like showing them. And he couldn’t, you know, open his mouth to a certain degree. So it all makes sense. He’s not this like superhuman amazing specimen who we describe in terms in ways you would find in a romance novel. His jaw is rippling. And, you know, it’s it’s it’s a lot.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S10: So what did you find about him that lived up or maybe even surpassed either the myth or your expectations?

S9: I don’t know if it’s the myth, but, you know, when you go to Mt. Vernon, it is a beautiful, beautiful estate. It has a lot of different farms. It is also a forced labor camp. And you see a lot of the things that he tried to do. And and what I really understood is instead of just telling me he was a businessman, I really understood how important that was to him to succeed in that sense as a capitalist and also how much he enjoyed it. You know, he spent a lot of time thinking about different ways he could work the enslaved community harder and more efficiently. And so I think for me to hear that he’s so happy at Mount Vernon and it’s so romantic and genteel and all of these things doesn’t do it. But to actually see what it was about Mt. Vernon. Then I get it.

S8: Yeah. And I think that whatever leadership is and maybe there are parts of leadership that are unfair and based on subjectivity. He had it the way the other founding fathers talk about him was different from how they talked about any of the rest of them, like he wasn’t a Superman. And and many of them, you know, tried to politicize around him. But it’s always seems to me, even from your book and everything else I read that there was this. They set him apart. They set him apart.

S9: They had an incredible amount of respect for him. They envy the way other people talked about him. And they also did find him to be slippery. At one point, Jefferson says he’s going to exit the presidency and he’s going to get away with everything and not take the blame for anything. And we’re going to get it just like usual. It’s so bitter. And I think that that is absolutely true, that they respected him. They feared him a little bit. And they also felt like he got to live by different standards. And that’s still true if you think about how modern audiences feel about the founding fathers. There are so many emotions when it comes to Jefferson. He’s such you know, there’s the hypocrisy. We want him to be the great things that he said. And then he wrote with Adams. You can joke about him. He’s sort of fun with, you know, all these different people with Washington.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S10: People like myths. Yes. Why do you think that he has not been able to be portrayed as a great dramatic figure? I mean that in movies in I guess he’s pretty good in the then the musical Hamilton. But he seems it seems that I don’t know if it’s that he doesn’t have that, you know, fatal flaw, although you portray that he does. But so far he has defied characterization in fictionalized or semi fictionalized form as much as he is on the dollar bill. And our first founding father, there’s no great portrayal of him that resounds. Yes. Across the ages like there have been for Lincoln.

S9: Lincoln, we have photos of. And I think that’s really significant. A presidential scholar at the Adams papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society once had the gall to call Washington vanilla to my face. And I think that that is true. That’s how people see him. I don’t think it’s true when it comes to Washington. He was constantly plotting and scheming and being pretty awful and, you know, exacting. And then he would get really excited about odd things like mules and he would name his dog sweet lips. You know, he is a fully formed person to be at all to you and I.

S11: Alexis. I mean, back then, murals were really important. Well, they were hard to get to. They were illegal to export from Spain. And that’s the only time I really see him trying to be like use his influence or if you will. He really wants one for free. Well, as a member, I mean, isn’t the placement of Washington, D.C. he like a little bit lining his pocket? I mean, didn’t they speculate on where that should go? And they made some money on that. It was a great compromise. Hamilton wanted his bank and the southerners of which we have to remember, Washington was.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: You wanted a southern location. And of course, he was thrilled that it was 15 miles from Mt. Vernon, the same way he was thrilled that Philadelphia, the second location of the presidential house, was close enough to Mount Vernon to rotate his enslaved people out every six months lest they be free, which was the rule of the city.

S10: So I’ve interviewed turnout. And he said if he didn’t like one of his subjects, just given how far and how deep he goes, it would be an unenjoyable experience for him. So he there comes to like or starts and chooses a subject that he’s interested in and thinks he will like. Well, how about you? And liking your subject? And how did being with George Washington for so long play out in your life?

S9: I believe that turn-out likes Washington, I think. But also Rockefeller and also yes and yes. But the problem with being as obvious about your admiration and your affection for your subject is that it creates a bias and you want to see the best in them. This biography has been called a reverent a little bit. Yours? Yeah, mine. Yes. And my question is, why are we accepting of reverence? It skews the perceptions. So so with someone like Turnell. The problem with him liking Washington is he can’t see faults very easily. So he can’t say, hey, you were sort of negligent in this position or, you know, why didn’t you admit that sooner? Or let’s say there’s a rumor that, you know, his mother sent a letter of complaint to the Virginia assembly. He doesn’t check it out. He just says it as fact. He says she sent this letter. She didn’t I wouldn’t say that I love him or hate him or I feel any of those things to me because we have a professional relationships. I’m not going to comment on his thighs and I’m not going to say that I like him. I will say that he is a fully formed person to me. And so he has a lot of things I really dislike and find very disappointing and a lot of things that I am an absolute all about.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: Would America be America for war and for George Washington?

S9: No, it really wouldn’t. There is no other man for the job. That’s true. And we can play this game. We can say, you know what, if Washington had emancipated his slaves, the things that we project onto Jefferson. I’ve talked to Annette Gordon-Reed about this. And she said, you know, Jefferson. If he had done all the things that we want him to, we wouldn’t know his name. I’m not sure if that’s true with Washington. I don’t know if he would’ve been a country if he had emancipated his slaves during his lifetime, but I think a lot of things would have happened a little bit sooner. All the books and on Washington emancipating his slaves. And I go a little bit farther than that. And I talk about the civil war when his wall had been built and this was his dream to have this verdant spot. What’s interesting is that both sides, the Confederacy and the Union, they both come and they they pay homage, they pay their respects and they engrave their initials into the stones because they both felt like he belonged to them.

S10: They both, for political reasons, had to lay claim to him. Yeah, as a southerners saying Washington saw himself as a Virginian first.

S9: Yes. And they cherry picked what they thought was significant and true about him. And they were both right. And I think that is really important when you think about Washington and our founding and our country, when a great leader can also represent the dreams and aspirations of all people.

S5: Could be a little bit of a blank slate.

S9: Yes. And we can expect these people to be perfect. I have never known a perfect president in my lifetime and mentioned Chester Arthur, which is weird. Yeah. My goodness. I mean, just up and down with that man. You know, it starts out so promising and then it’s awful and then it’s good again.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S11: And who knows? Ray Arthur, what a redemption story. I know. And America loves a redemption story. We love just real. Yeah. Don’t tempt me. Our only Vermont president.

S9: I believe it’s true. Some people spend a lot of time in Vermont, but they and they built houses, but they didn’t actually live there. I think that this idea that we expect these men to be perfect, especially when it’s a golden child, let’s say like Kennedy or or someone who does the unthinkable, like Washington, we’re projecting our hopes and our dreams for ourselves onto them. The country has always been a mess. The leaders have always been incredibly flawed people. And that’s okay. We’ve survived. It doesn’t ensure that we will. What we should take from this is that people have fought very hard for what they believe in. They’re not people who would naturally do this. You know, Washington was a reluctant revolutionary who only did that when he had to. And then he changed course dramatically when he was president.

S8: You never forget your first is the name of the book. It is a biography of George Washington, a biography the likes of which you haven’t read before. Many charts and graphs and witticisms. And let us take the word irreverent in its least pejorative form and say that it applies to that. It applies to the book as well. It’s an excellent read. Alexis co-wrote it. Thank you, Alexis. Thank you.

S1: And now the schpiel. It is an antenna and antenna, Twigg is our name from the old English for a three week period, right? It’s not a fortnight. It’s an antenna. Twigg And every antenna twig or as we now judge them whenever the heck I want, but every antenna. Twigg Let’s just say we correct errors if there are any. Sometimes there are. We issue clarifications which are more satisfying than errors because, you know, error is so binary, right? Wrong clarifications.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: For ages, we’re engaged in a dialogue, a dialogue that elevates us all. We answer listener mail, but also and this is new electronic mail. And now in this a.n Twigg, I’ll introduce something new that we do. We make confessions, slate, just concessions. So that interview you just heard a few minutes ago, you heard me ask Alexis, would George Washington be president if he were six inches shorter? But that’s not what I originally said. What I originally said was this same guy, six feet shorter, might not have been the father of the country. I sometimes get the impression and you know what? I re-recorded it and I almost never do that. Really? Almost never. I came from NPR. The rule was you could retake an intro, but not a question. But why? Who does that serve?

S1: I mean, Alexis May may have been nicely playing along or no understanding what I meant or even heard it differently. I’d certainly heard it in my head differently. Clearly, I meant to say, would he be president if he were six inches shorter? But I wound up saying, would he be president if he were six feet shorter? So we took it. I think my reasoning is I think it’s more a service to you than to have to cut out the entire Q&A because it’s confusing. If you heard that and you get distracted and maybe you think she’s even answering my question literally. As stated, it’s just so much better to very occasionally redo a question. And that’s what we did. Now, I gotta say, if the president were six feet shorter, if George Washington were six feet shorter, I think the answer still maybe you’d make him president. I mean, if you have a guy who led your army to defeat the British, the greatest army in the world, and that guy is only two inches to three inches, I mean, you’d wanna. You’d be pretty proud of that guy, right.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: This sub Smurf type figure who beat back the British probably of cut into his surveying business way back when 2 inch George Washington managed George Washington. No match for my demat? Nope. I said I would not be doing voices, other errors or Disclosure’s or Arata. Jake step at all. But I was shocked. Shocked? He writes. I was shocked to hear Mike describe Dick Sargent slash Dick York as being a part of I Dream of Jeannie, when, of course he was the husband of Samantha Stevens zombie, which that is true. That was a bit of Miss Dickory, I guess you could say. Then there was the time a few weeks or months ago when I attributed misattributed to saying the vice presidency ain’t worth a warm bucket of spit. I said Albon Barkley said that incorrect. It was Charles Barkley. No, it was John NANCE Garner. Garner was f.d.r.’s V.P. before Truman was. And Truman’s V.P. was Alvin Barkley. And by the way, in this whole thing, they didn’t say warm bucket of spit. They said warm bucket of piss. But it was cleaned up to be more suitable for a family friendly newspaper of the time. By the way, I found that an interesting fact a couple days, I think literally two days ago is talking on the show about how even if they had the full medical records of every president, it wouldn’t have really changed anything. Every president survived through his presidency, at least of natural causes. I speculated maybe Wilson’s medical records could have led us to believe that he’d have a stroke. But actually, if he his doctors at the time missed that. But but it turns out that Albon Barkley wanted to run for president, tried to run for president in 1952 when Truman said he wasn’t gonna run, but he was opposed because of health reasons and age. And guess what? That turned out to be a prescient opposition because album. Barkley died in 1956 before what would have been his first term was over. Warm bucket of piss, warm bucket of spit. It’s playing with it a little bit. It turns out almost all idioms that have piss in them, you could change it to spit and it works really well. Like he’s all piss and vinegar. If you don’t want to say that because he’s all spit and vinegar, that’s perfectly fine. I think we understand it. Or are they those guys got into a real pissing contest. You could change it to a real spitting contest. That totally makes sense. Does it really work the other way? Because in comedy, if I see the dowager slip on a banana peel and land up on her keister, I wouldn’t want to do a piss take. I’d probably want to do a spit, take piss, take something else. Another correction, I went on and on and on about how Elizabeth Warren was the worst performing Massachusetts governor in the New Hampshire primary. What about Deval Patrick? A few people said, but only a few people, which reflects the results of New Hampshire. Here is an exchange that I was privy to on Twitter because I was tagged Carrie Littlejohn tagged me at Pesco me ipsc a.m. on. That’s my Twitter handle. I never miss a show, but one that had me talking a lot was the new cosmic crisp apple. I told so many people about his new apple. And now I just 8:1 live in mid-missouri, so we’re slow on the uptake. Holy hell, if that’s not a near perfect apple, which was fine, I certainly wanted to tell you about that. I inspired a fan to eat an apple. It’s why you get into this game. But replying to Carrie’s tweet at me. Was this reply. Thank you so much for the kind words carry. So glad you were able to give it a try. Give it a try. That account was at the Cosmic Crisp. The cosmic crisp apple has his or her own account and was thanking Carey for eating him. Doesn’t happen every day. Another error I confuse Tammy Wynette with Patsy Cline. It happens. She, of course, is Tammy Cactus. Tamara. Why not?

Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: And finally, I’d like to get into. It’s actually been a months long exchange with a Twitter follower of mine and listener to the show, a man named Nat. And sometimes Nat reaches out to tell me things like at Pesco, Maine, November 13th. Twenty eighteen. Your spiel today was remarkably ignorant, just saying thank you, Nat, but lately he’s been saying that. I’ve been saying Bhuta Jej wrong. November 9th. Twenty nineteen. Could you please learn to say butI jej without making it sound like you’re mocking his name? It’s really obnoxious and his name isn’t that hard to say if you make some effort. I reply to him as far as I know. I say it like he says it, and then few days later Nat replies, No, you don’t. Seriously? For someone who supposedly knows audio, you’re surprisingly ignorant. Call him Piech or learn to say it right now. Listen, I know there is no winning when you engage in a Twitter feud, but I don’t want to say the guy’s name wrong. And if this listener who’s really impassioned knows that I’m saying it wrong, I wanted to know what the right way to say it. I did a lot of research. I looked up my interview with Pete Bruited JEJ where which starts with him saying his name, not on not on the interview that aired, but he did say it to me. I’ve looked up all the ways to say it, how he says it. He says Bruder Jej. I know phonetically that they tried to help people by making signs and T-shirts that say boot edge, edge. So with this in mind, I replied to the fellow and said, you’re great at insults and no proof or evidence if you want to cite a time, code or link to what you think is right. I can consider otherwise it’s a waste of my time. I have a theory. You think it’s pronounced boot edge edge because it’s not.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: And then Nat wrote It’s the tone you use every time you say it like it’s a joke. You really don’t hear it. Which is weird to which I replied. Wait, you’re saying the actual pronunciation is correct, but what you’re hearing is that I’m sneering or mocking or have a tone that connotes negativity. That’s what this is all been about. And that wrote yep, something to work on. And so I shall. And so I shall. That. The lob star of the Antenna Twig, which is our award, who’s given that’s given to the listener or Twitter or emailer that most elevated the discourse will not be Natt, but it will be shared this time between two great converters. One is Carry Little John and two is the cosmic crisp apple. This is the first time in the history of an antenna wagon, a lop star that a fruit has gotten the lab star. I don’t know how you carry and you cosmic crisp. We’ll split the award maybe with a Williams-Sonoma stainless steel apple slicer. I will leave that to you guys. Well, you guy and you edible fruit, who is probably not going to like how this all plays out.

S12: And that’s it for today’s show, Priscilla. A lobby just associate producer once quoted Dean Rusk as saying the secretary of statesmanship isn’t worth a keg of phlegm when it was actually Dean Acheson. And he said Barral A plus. Daniel Schrader, just producer, can’t quite say Tulsi Gabbard without not only hissing, but throwing down a smoke bomb and rappelling towards the ceiling. The gist, if any of you heard me say the words Albin Barkley and thought I was dripping with condescension, I’ll try to mask it better. Next time we’ll put a desperate to Peru. And thanks for listening.