Joseph Taylor Robinson (1872-1937)
Much is being made today – as it should be – of the honors being afforded Robert C. Byrd, the longest serving member ever in the United States Senate. Senators will stop everything – Supreme Court confirmations, Wall Street regulatory reform, maybe even partisan bickering – to honor Byrd whose mortal remains will hold the Senate floor for a final time. It is a great honor and a fitting one.
In another July – 73 years ago – another powerful, beloved Senate leader, a Senator with many of the southern and political instincts that Byrd came to symbolize, received much the same honor Byrd receives today. Joseph Taylor Robinson, when he died of a heart attack during a blistering hot spell in Washington, D.C. on July 14, 1937, was the longest serving majority leader in history. His death shocked the nation’s political establishment and, like Bobby Byrd, it caused the institution to stop and reflect on how special and significant one person can be, even in the rarefied air of the United States Senate.
Robinson, a former Arkansas governor and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate in 1928, was widely admired in the Senate for his work ethic, his fairness and his ability to forge lasting personal relationships.
[Technically, Byrd is lying in repose today, while Robinson’s 1937 ceremony was called a memorial.]
Robinson’s biographer, Cecil Edward Weller, Jr., says he was the most important Arkansas politician in the first half of the 20th Century, and one of the most influential in the south. But even more than that, Robinson, like Byrd, was a creature of the Senate. Ironically, Robinson’s lifetime ambition was a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and that seemed within his reach in 1937.
It was the worst kept secret in the Capitol that Franklin Roosevelt had promised the first open seat on the Court to Robinson, mostly out of respect for his party loyalty. Robinson had taken on the thankless job of running as the southern balance on the Democratic ticket in 1928 with New York Governor Al Smith. Smith was a Catholic, northeastern, urban, “wet,” while Robinson was a rural, Protestant, southern “dry.” The Smith-Robinson ticket got trounced.
When a Supreme Court opening materialized in the summer of 1937, FDR hesitated in naming Robinson because he was completely embroiled in his controversial plan to enlarge the Court; or “pack” it in the popular phrase of the day. Robinson had been FDR’s loyal lieutenant in advancing the Court plan – and the rest of the New Deal for that matter – even though he was personally skeptical that it was the right policy.
Still, when conservative Justice Willis Van Devanter retired, it looked like Robinson was destined to get his wish. His Senate friends took to calling him “Mr. Justice,” but still FDR withheld the formal offer of a Court appointment. The president wanted his Court plan to pass and knew he needed his majority leader on the job to get it done. As events turned, neither FDR’s bill passed nor did Robinson get to the Court. When Joe T. died on July 14, the Court plan died with him, as did his hope to end his long career on the nation’s high court.
Its all speculation, but had Robinson lived he might well have forced Roosevelt to compromise and accept two or three additional Supreme Court justices rather than the six FDR wanted. Without Robinson pushing and prodding the Senate, the president got nothing. By the same token, had FDR acted quickly to appoint Robinson to the Court, it might well have been the gesture the Senate was looking for – putting a popular Senate leader on the controversial Court – to move the president’s legislation. Proof that timing is often everything in politics.
FDR attended Robinson’s memorial ceremony in the Senate chamber and most members of the Senate and many House members boarded a special train to Little Rock for services prior to Robinson’s burial in Arkansas nearly three-quarters of a century ago.
Joseph Taylor Robinson (1872-1937)
Can Google Save Journalism?
James Fallows, the talented and insightful writer for The Atlantic, has a great piece in the current issue that might – just might – give hope to those of us who worry about the future of “real” journalism. It turns out that Google, thought by many to be helping speed the death of old line journalism, is actually devoting serious time and resources to strategies to help quality reporting survive and thrive when the old business models finally creak to a halt.
“It’s the triple whammy,” Eric Schmidt, the Google CEO told Fallows, that is killing newspapers. “Loss of classifieds, loss of circulation, loss of the value of display ads in print, on a per-ad basis. Online advertising is growing but has not caught up,” Schmidt said.
At the same time the smart guys at Google, clearly much more tech savvy than old-line news folks, realize that the value of the search engine is that it can – and must – supply quality content. Without quality reporting, no quality content.
Here’s Fallows on what Google is up to: “After talking during the past year with engineers and strategists at Google and recently interviewing some of their counterparts inside the news industry, I am convinced that there is a larger vision for news coming out of Google; that it is not simply a charity effort to buy off critics; and that it has been pushed hard enough by people at the top of the company, especially Schmidt, to become an internalized part of the culture in what is arguably the world’s most important media organization. Google’s initiatives do not constitute a complete or easy plan for the next phase of serious journalism. But they are more promising than what I’m used to seeing elsewhere, notably in the steady stream of ‘Crisis of the Press’ –style reports. The company’s ultimate ambition is in line with what most of today’s reporters, editors, and publishers are hoping for—which is what, in my view, most citizens should also support.”
I’m the guy who has often joked that I will be the last person in America to buy a newspaper. When everyone else has moved to the iPod or whatever, I’ll still be prowling around an airport or a newsstand looking for ink on newsprint. But even I must concede the old newspaper model is fading fast. Maybe even faster than anyone thinks.
Here’s how one Google strategist describes, not incorrectly, the current newspaper business model: “Grow trees—then grind them up, and truck big rolls of paper down from Canada? Then run them through enormously expensive machinery, hand-deliver them overnight to thousands of doorsteps, and leave more on newsstands, where the surplus is out of date immediately and must be thrown away? Who would say that made sense?” It doesn’t any more.
“It’s obvious that in five or 10 years, most news will be consumed on an electronic device of some sort,” Schmidt told Fallows. “Something that is mobile and personal, with a nice color screen. Imagine an iPod or Kindle smart enough to show you stories that are incremental to a story it showed you yesterday, rather than just repetitive. And it knows who your friends are and what they’re reading and think is hot. And it has display advertising with lots of nice color, and more personal and targeted, within the limits of creepiness. And it has a GPS and a radio network and knows what is going on around you. If you think about that, you get to an interesting answer very quickly, involving both subscriptions and ads.”
That is the key: how to generate the ad revenue – and remember most newspapers have always been a platform to sell ads, the news content was secondary.
Read Fallows piece and see if you don’t agree that Google gets the content piece and may just be smart enough to help the real journalists figure out the business approach, too.
Not everyone agrees, of course, but can anyone doubt that the way journalism is financed, distributed and packaged has already changed in rapid and remarkable fashion. I can’t see ahead to next year let alone ten years, but I’m confident we have only seen the beginning of the transformation. My hope is that the daily, hourly need for quality content will help drive the technological transformation.
You might want to Google that notion while reading your ink on newsprint…while you still can.
Too Independent for Today’s GOP
Arguably William Edgar Borah – the Lion of Idaho – is the most famous and influential politician Idaho has ever produced. He served longer in the U.S. Senate than anyone from Idaho ever has, was a genuine international figure and regularly confounded what he called “the old guard” in the GOP because of his independence.
One wonders what Bill Borah would have thought of some planks in the Idaho GOP platform adopted last weekend in Idaho Falls? I wonder how many of the delegates know, or care, that Borah fought hard for, indeed was the floor sponsor of, the Constitutional amendment – the 17th Amendment – that changed the way U.S. Senators are elected. Idaho Republicans are now on record favoring repeal of Borah’s handiwork and returning to the pre-1913 days when state legislators elected Senators.
Borah was never a party regular. A reporter made the observation in the early 1930’s that there were four distinct political factions in the United States – Republicans, Democrats, Progressives and William E. Borah.
While Borah never broke openly with the national party, he did refuse to endorse William Howard Taft in 1912 – Borah was close to Theodore Roosevelt – and he couldn’t bring himself to back Alfred Landon in 1936. Pressed by GOP leaders to make a series of radio talks to help Landon, the Kansas governor, in his uphill fight against Franklin Roosevelt, Borah refused. His biographer, Marian McKenna, wrote that “he warned Republican leaders that if they force him to take a stand publicly…he would let it be known that he preferred Roosevelt.”
Borah might have trouble with the “loyalty oath” Idaho Republicans now say will be required of GOP candidates. I doubt he would have approved of the party’s effort to encourage long-time GOP local official Vern Bisterfeldt to withdraw as the party’s candidate for Ada County Commissioner because of his past support for some Democratic candidates. In 1912 Borah challenged state GOP leaders to read him out of the party if they could. They couldn’t.
As to the 17th Amendment – the direct election of U.S. Senators – I think it not an overstatement to say that Idaho’s most famous Republican would have been appalled that modern day GOP adherents would openly call for its repeal.
McKenna wrote in her 1961 biography about Borah’s leadership on the issue: “It was an excellent public service, but few know or remember Borah’s part in it. The fight had been long, cutting across party lines and pitting conservatives against progressives. Borah found this groping of the electorate toward a truer and more efficient democracy most heartening.”
Asked years later if the change in how Senators are elected had improved the Senate, Borah had no doubt. He trusted the popular will. “What judgment is so swift, so sure and so remorseless,” he said, “as the judgment of the American people?”
There were two principle reasons Borah favored the election reform, one very personal another moral. He knew that his Senate career would likely be a short one if he couldn’t appeal directly to the voters and he was genuinely disgusted by the corruption involved when legislators elected Senators.
One of the most celebrated corruption cases involved William Andrews Clark of Montana, but Borah was more familiar with a corrupt 1909 Illinois election involving William Lorimer. As exposed by the Chicago Tribune, Lorimer won his Senate seat thanks to a $100,000 slush fund gathered by Illinois business interests who used the cash to bribe state legislators. The Senate eventually declared Lorimer’s election invalid and Borah used the case to press for his reform.
In the 1930’s, Borah remained fiercely independent and above his party. He supported much of Roosevelt’s New Deal, made common cause with Democrats – Montana’s Burton K. Wheeler, a Progressive Democrat, was a close friend and collaborator – and lamented the GOP drift to the right. In his one rather half-hearted run for the White House in 1936, Borah told a campaign crowd: “If those now in control [of the Republican Party] would wake up some morning and find that I had been nominated for President they would groan, roll over and die.”
McKenna summed up his individualism this way: “He was really an independent with a mystic loyalty to the party which never seemed to live up to the ideals he conceived for it. He was a Republican by inheritance and a Democrat by inclination. He tried to stand for the best in the two parties and was inevitably accused of straddling…it took courage for him to wage an unending battle against the old guard in the party which he really loved.”
Mark Twain once said that, “in religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.”
Perhaps political party platforms should be seen in the same light, and, of course, Democrats come up with crazy notions and put them in their platforms, too. Still, some of the positions Idaho Republicans now endorse ignore some of the the country’s history, not to mention the history of the most famous Republican Idaho ever produced.
A Monday Morning in Senate History
The news that the longest serving member of Congress in the nation’s history, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, had died got me to thinking about all that the silver maned “dean of the Senate” has seen since coming to Washington, D.C. in 1952. Think about it: Korea, McCarthy, the Cold War, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Vietnam, civil rights, Nixon, Watergate, the rise of China, the end of the Soviet Union, radical Islam, Iraq and Afghanistan. What a time and what a career. Byrd was 92 and he loved the Senate.
Byrd, with his courtly demeanor and three piece suits, was a throwback in many ways. Before his declining health, he was one of the Senate’s great theatrical orators. Byrd was also a respecter of tradition and rules, one of the Senate’s champion appropriators – it seems like half of the bridges and buildings in West Virginia carry his name – and a fierce defender of the Senate’s role and responsibility as an institution in our system; particularly the Senate’s role in limiting executive power. His has not been a career free of controversy, either.
In the early 1940’s, Byrd organized a Ku Klux Klan chapter in his hometown, Crab Orchard, and was chosen the chapter’s “Exalted Cyclops.” The Klan connection followed him all the rest of his life. In his memoir, Child of the Appalachian Coal Fields, published in 2005, he called joining the Klan a serious case of “bad judgment” driven by the naivete and ambition of a young man.
“(Klan membership) has emerged throughout my life,” he wrote, “to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career, and reputation.” Byrd goes on to note, not without irony, that organizing the Klan chapter in the 1940’s served as his stepping stone to politics.
He was mentioned as a presidential or vice presidential candidate more than once, rose to become Senate Majority Leader and has been a genuine scholar of Senate history. His book – The Senate: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate, 1789-1989 – is wonderful reading for a political history buff.
In his day, Byrd could play a pretty fair fiddle. I remember seeing him in action in a stiflingly hot Boise High School auditorium during a campaign event for Sen. Frank Church in the fall of 1980.
Byrd has also been a passionate advocate for better teaching of American history and when the Federation of State Humanities Councils presented him some years back with an award for his advocacy and support, he pulled out tattered copy of a history text he had read as a child in those Appalachian coal fields. The book, now mostly long forgotten, was An American History written by a Columbia University historian, David Saville Muzzey, and first issued in 1911. Muzzey’s work was a standard American history text in the early 20th Century and Byrd praised it to nines; repeatedly referring to “his Muzzey.”
In 2004, Byrd authored another book; a slim and well-reasoned volume entitled Losing America. With the book he lamented the steady rise, during what was then his nearly 60 years in Washington, of the power of an American president to commit our military to action with little if any questioning by the Congress. The book was written in the wake of 9-11 and George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq; a action Byrd had courageously and very openly opposed.
He wrote: “The awesome power to commit this nation to war must be taken back from the hands of a single individual – the president of the United States – and returned to the people’s representatives in Congress as the framers intended. No president must ever again be granted such license with our troops or our treasure.”
At a time when there is so much talk about threats to the Constitution from – take your pick – President Obama, the Democratic Congress, a conservative Supreme Court or talk radio it is interesting that those doing the denouncing on both the left and the right hardly ever – OK, Ron Paul is an exception – mention Byrd’s point about Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 – “The Congress shall have power…To declare war.”
Bob Byrd knew “his Muzzey” and his Constitution. He has always carried a copy of the founding document in his coat pocket. His Senate career is one for the record books and the history books and the Senate could use his historical perspective as it takes on another Supreme Court confirmation this week.
And Now, Judging Kagan
Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings open today and the Senate’s increasing inability to comprehensively, carefully and civilly carry out the “advise and consent” function may be as much on trial as the nominee.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were threatening over the weekend to boycott the hearings unless they got access to more Kagan documents. Ranking GOP member Jeff Sessions even suggested a filibuster might be in order.
Almost all of this, along with unbelievable talk about Kagan’s wardrobe and looks, is little more than political theatre. The real questions that need to be asked, and probably won’t be, are much less theatrical and much more important.
Is she competent? Supreme Court clerk, White House Counsel’s Office, Harvard Law dean would argue for a yes. My question: what did she learn from those experiences and how might it apply to the Supreme Court?
Has she done anything in her professional or private life that might disqualify her – or anyone with similar history – from service on the high court? Nothing we know of.
So, ultimately, does she understand the role of a judge? While we’ll hear a good deal about her “judicial temperament” and whether she is an “activist” or a “liberal.” I’d like some member of the Senate committee to ask her who she thinks has most affected American judicial thought since 1789, or in the 20th Century? Does she know anything about Holmes and Brandeis, Marshall and Taney? What opinion of Chief Justice Rehnquist’s does she most admire? What has she read lately? How does she see the job of lawyer to the president? How will she work with Roberts and Scalia? Does she think she has any responsibility to explain herself – and her opinions – if she gots to wear the robe?
You can bet the White House has equipped Kagan with 110 ways to say “I couldn’t possibly comment on that since it is an issue that may well come before the Court.” So, maybe we could have the Senate engage her in a conversation about how she thinks, what she knows about history and the Constitution and how she will apply her experience.
I’m not holding my breath. The nineteen members of the Judiciary Committee – assuming the Republicans show up – will each need plenty of C-SPAN time. Why waste any of those precious moments on a real question that might really tell us something about the nominee when a partisan speech is possible – and expected?
Bob Byrd and Elena Kagan are joined in history this Monday morning; the history of the United States Senate. Let’s hope the current Senate is up to playing something approaching a useful role in writing one more chapter in that history, because with two problematic wars raging, a stagnant economy and millions out of work, the country hardly needs the sideshow of an unproductive fight over who should join the Supreme Court. The White House and the Senate have a stake in making things work, and work better. Why not start today?
In his massive history of the Senate, Byrd wrote lovingly about the great Majority Leader from Montana Mike Mansfield and quotes the Montanan – the longest serving leader in history – as saying: “In moments of crisis, at least, the President and the Congress cannot be adversaries; they must be allies who, together, must delineate the path to guide the nation’s massive machinery of government in a fashion which serves the interests of the people and is acceptable to the people.”
That is the Washington we need right now and can’t seem to get.
The Little Bighorn…a Battle Never Really Over
Sometime in the afternoon of June 25, 1876 – 134 years ago today – George Armstrong Custer and more than 200 troopers of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry under his direct command died on the hills and in the ravines along the east side of the Little Bighorn River in southeastern Montana.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer’s Last Stand, Sitting Bull’s Triumph, whatever it has been called, never seems to be as distant or as “historical” as other even more important moments in American history. A fabulous new book about the battle The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick goes a long way to explain why the lopsided encounter on that hot June afternoon never seems to be ready to move to the back shelves of our history.
Philbrick does a commendable job of telling a balanced story. He doesn’t detest Custer, although there is much to detest, and he doesn’t glorify the mostly Sioux and Cheyenne warriors – particularly Sitting Bull – who messed up the obsessively ambitious Custer’s opportunity, potentially, to win a great victory and position himself for a political career.
It’s fun to speculate about Custer the candidate. He was a shameless self promoter, a passably good writer, articulate – although he spoke very fast and this reportedly made him difficult to understand – and, even though his famous golden hair was thinning by the time he rode into the valley of the Little Bighorn, he was a good looking fellow.
He was also a partisan Democrat when Democrats need an attractive candidate for the White House. Who knows? He could have been a contender. Custer could also be a bully, a prude and, as it suited him, an extraordinarily attentive friend and husband. In other words, he was, well, complicated.
As Salon noted in a review of Philbrick’s extremely well written and researched book: “Today, Custer has long since become an embarrassment to educated white Americans. But the effort we’ve put into debunking him amounts to admitting we’re stuck with him. From the Goldilocks hairdo he’d actually rid himself of before Little Bighorn to the final, almost certainly inaccurate, tableau of The Last White Man Standing as the ‘hostiles’ close in, he’s the horse’s ass we rode in on.”
My own view is that the Custer story continues to generate interest and books – the General, really Lt. Colonel, even has a website and a “re-enacter” – for several reasons.
Even with Philbrick’s fresh retelling, we will never have the final word on the battle. The confusion of the battle – it played out over some distance in difficult terrain – and the selective or flawed memory of those who survived – and none directly with Custer did survive – combine to leave many details impossible to pin down. What really happened will forever remain a mystery.
America, even in 1876, loved a flamboyant character. Custer was all that. He rode into Civil War battles wearing his own specially designed black velvet uniform. He once organized his entire regiment into companies defined by the color of the horses – a black horse company, a grey horse company, etc. He skillfully courted the press. One of the men who died with him in Montana was a newspaperman along to report on his exploits. Custer was a personality. Cable TV would have loved him.
Philbrick makes a compelling case that Custer, had his customary luck held that long ago day, just might have prevailed. He had used similar tactics before to raid Indian villages and had his subordinates – Marcus Reno and Frederick Benteen – not hated Custer so much, and been better soldiers, they just might have pulled off the attack they launched against the massive native village. Sitting Bull shared that belief early on that hot afternoon, saying that he thought his warriors might well be routed.
Finally, the Custer of Hollywood and heroic paintingts has survived and thrived because his very best publicist was his handsome wife, Elizabeth or Libby. She lived a long life, dying in 1933 at age 91 and, playing the role of “professional widow,” she pulled out all the stops to burnish he departed husband’s reputation and keep his memory alive. A profile in American Heritage noted that her last letter to Custer ended this way: “My thoughts, my dreams, my prayers, are all for you. God bless and keep my darling. Ever your own Libbie.”
As the Wall Street Journal has noted in its review of Philbrick’s book, the author is generally even-handed and displays, I think, just the right amount of disdain for Custer. Philbrick also continues the historical advance of the Custer story from “tragedy” to “cautionary tale.”
By the summer of 1876, the United States was in transition from a post-Civil War focus – Reconstruction would officially end with the election of 1876 – to a nation with imperial designs. The prevailing political and military sentiment was to contain the “hostiles” on confined reservations in order to advance the nation’s economic development and population expansion.
The Little Bighorn was but a momentary pause in that march for, as the Austin-American Statesman notes: “After the battle, Sitting Bull’s huge village quickly scattered, and virtually every band surrendered to federal authorities within a few months. Reservation life brought only despair and deprivation. ‘This victory, great as it was,’ Philbrick writes of the battle, ‘had simply been the prelude to a crushing and irresistible defeat.'”
For a long time, I thought it strange that we named the battle after the guy who had lost. Why not the Great Sioux and Cheyenne Battle? Or, Sitting Bull’s Battle? Former Montana Congressman Pat Williams answered the question when he told me a while back that during his 18 years in Congress, he caught as much flak for sponsoring the legislation to change the name of the battlefield – from Custer Battlefield to Little Bighorn Battlefield – as anything he ever did.
Custer died 134 years ago today, but then again he never really died.
Truman Did It, So Did Lincoln…
When I first heard about and then read Gen. Stanley McCrystal’s comments about President Obama and some of his top advisers, I thought of another general – brilliant, but also cocky – who dissed his commander-in-chief, and, no, it was Douglas MacArthur.
The guy I thought of was George Brinton McClellan – Little Mac – the general who confounded Abraham Lincoln and, I would suggest, bears more than a passing resemblance to the sacked McCrystal. There is a famous story from 1862 about McClellan showing a supreme amount of disrespect for his Commander-in-Chief. Lincoln called one evening on his commanding general at his home in Washington, D.C. Told that McClellan was out, Lincoln, with a couple of companions in tow, told the general’s household staff that he would wait for his return in the parlor. Before too long McClellan came home and was told the President of the United States was waiting to speak to him. Rather than immediately present himself, McClellan sprinted up the stairs and went to bed.
Lincoln’s aides were outraged. What a snub of the president whom McClellan was known to call “an idiot” and “the gorilla.” Lincoln, one wonders why, shrugged off the snub. Time after time during the early days of the Civil War, Lincoln gave McClellan his head and time after time McClellan disappointed. Finally, after McClellan failed to follow up on his on significant defeat of Robert E. Lee’s army at the bloody battle of Antietam, Lincoln sacked the arrogant and ineffective general. McClellan, never lacking in self-confidence, eventually ran against Lincoln for president in1864. Lincoln had the pleasure of dispatching him a second time, but he probably put up with more than he should have and for much longer.
Obama acted more decisively and appropriately with McCrystal. And, when the president summoned his general from Afghanistan, at least McCrystal showed up to face the public hanging.
Lincoln had another general – Joe Hooker – who talked openly about the country’s need for “a dictator” to effectively end the Civil War. Lincoln, again displaying real patience, heard about Hooker’s lose talk and wrote the general one of the greatest letters any C-of-C ever wrote a battlefield commander.
Only generals who create victories, Lincoln told Hooker, could hope to create dictators. You bring the victories, Lincoln said, and “I’ll risk the dictator.” Lincoln finally had to fire Hooker, too.
Here’s the point: had McCrystal’s strategy in Afghanistan been working in a way that all of us could see, he might have survived. As it is, McCrystal is a good deal more like McClellan and Hooker than he is like MacArthur. MacArthur had engineered the audacious amphibious landing at Inchon in Korea, for example, and had a long record of accomplishment before Truman tied the can to him for his open contempt for the president. One of the best analysts of the American military, Thomas Ricks, makes the point that we ought to have even less hesitation about relieving a general. He’s right.
With all respect to McCrystal, he hasn’t won a thing. For that matter, neither has the newly designated commander Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus is given credit for devising and implementing the Iraq strategy, yet despite all the praise for the general, what happens after American troops further disengage in Iraq is still an open question.
The verdict is also very much out regarding the Afghanistan strategy. Obama may look back on this moment and come to regret that he didn’t seize upon McCrystal’s, and his staff’s, Bud Lite Lime infused indiscretions with a Rolling Stone reporter to reassess the entire strategy in Afghanistan. There is plenty of reason to wonder if any commander can make it work.
Lincoln – and Truman – learned that a president only gets to fire a general every once in a while. Doing so reasserts, in an essential way, the American tradition of civilian control of the military. But, considering how rare and high profile such a move is, a president better make the most of it to change strategy, too.