20th-Century Hot TakesOn June 3, 2020 by Elyse
I can say very confidently that the following words, which you are about to read, are very accurate and hopefully, very interesting.– Bob, 1976
This is not Second Glance History’s mission statement, although perhaps it should be. These words were, in fact, penned in 1976 by my father, Bob, in a biographical essay he wrote for school on his grandfather and my great-grandfather, Milton.
You may ask, what did Milton do to merit a biography? Well, not much:
He has lived an interesting life, but nothing extraordinary has happened to him to put him into a history book. He voices his opinions freely, but says very little which could be classified as unique.– Bob, 1976
Set your expectation accordingly. Milton will never feature in a history book. However, even though he didn’t make history, he was an eyewitness to it; starring in a history blog post is his consolation prize.
It is much more interesting to hear about history from an individual who has lived through it than it is to read about it from a text book. Especially when that individual is Milton.– Bob, 1976
I couldn’t agree more, Dad. Milton’s quips—hereafter known as #MiltonsHotTakes—are short, saucy and tailor made for the age of Twitter. They’re interspersed with my dad’s teenage snark, and 40-some-odd years later, the commentary is eerily resonant.
In many ways, Milton grew up alongside the 20th century. He was born in 1895 on the southwest side of Chicago. After his mother died when he was seven, he and his five siblings were left to fend for themselves.
He worked a string of odd jobs all through high school and served in the U.S. Army during World War I, albeit without adding any new stamps to his passport—he was in the cavalry in Texas. He went on to start—and lose—several businesses before and during the Great Depression. He married and raised a family in Chicago and later retired to Florida.
Milton is now eighty-one years old and spending his days fishing off the pier by his apartment, running errands for his wife of fifty-three years and having a social life with friends among his own age group—all in excellent health.– Bob, 1976
I’m told that as Milton aged, he mellowed into a quiet, mild-mannered man, content to let his gregarious wife steer any conversation. However, as his biographer discovered, he didn’t lack strident views on the country’s not-so-distant past.
President Theodore Roosevelt:
A very forceful and dynamic individual. . . the only reason I voted for Taft was because Roosevelt said to.– Milton, 1976
This is why endorsements matter. President Obama and Senator Biden appear to have already gotten the memo.
President William Howard Taft:
A very ordinary person. . . made no great or lasting impression on me.– Milton, 1976
Don’t take it personally, President Taft. Milton may not cut you any slack, but it’s hard to follow a larger-than-life character like Teddy. There’s not enough room for everyone’s face on Mount Rushmore.
The Progressive Movement:
Asking him his views on the Progressive Movement, I was subjected to a rather lengthy lecture on how it was “long overdue in coming” and how it “only exposed the surface of what really needed to be exposed.”– Bob, 1976
Milton could just as easily be commenting on today’s newspaper (because he definitely wouldn’t have been onboard with digital subscriptions).
President Woodrow Wilson:
Great ideas [regarding the League of Nations] but did not know how to implement them.– Milton, 1976
C- at best.
Furthermore, President Wilson, along with Illinois politician Adlai Stevenson:
Gave you the impression that they were above you and that they did not know how to communicate to you as a common person.– Milton, 1976
I can think of any number of current politicians who fit the bill. I’m beginning to wonder if my great-grandfather was a time traveler.
The Tea Pot Dome scandal:
Corruption existed everywhere. . . There was no reason to be surprised.– Milton, 1976
No time machine required: Some things never change.
The Roaring Twenties:
As I began to discuss the “roaring ’20s” with my grandfather, I quickly formed the opinion that it was not as roaring as some people made it out to be. Milton concluded that the “roaring ’20s” was a time when people were “basically concerned for themselves and. . . the only thing exciting was drinking a good watered-down whiskey.” He then told me how it was a time of prosperity where people concentrated on themselves.– Bob, 1976
Are we sure he was referring to the 1920s? Either way, I now know where I get my taste for whiskey.
President Calvin Coolidge:
He was quiet and boring.– Milton, 1976
Don’t feel bad, President Coolidge—at least you made an impression, unlike poor President Taft.
President Herbert Hoover:
I got the feeling that Hoover just walked away from the problem. I don’t know what the problem was. Maybe he was just not smart enough.– Milton, 1976
If this is how critical Milton was of his presidents, I have new sympathy for my own grandpa, who had to work
with for his father for a number of years.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
Milton held the opinion that FDR was too powerful of an individual and held office too long. He then added, “he was by no means God.”– Bob, 1976
No surprise, Milton voted against (this) President Roosevelt in every election.
President Harry Truman:
Milton could never understand how a person who could not run a successful haberdashery could become president of the United States. “Looking back, I can now appreciate what a good president he was, although. . . the only reason why Dewey lost was because of the mustache.”– Bob, 1976
Milton missed his calling as a political strategist. Now that barbershops are open again, candidates for higher office have no excuse.
President Dwight Eisenhower:
When I mentioned the name Ike, my grandfather jumped out of his chair and declared, “I should have known better. Generals do not make good presidents. Look at the way he let McCarthy go on.” After he took his chair, he did admit that he voted for Ike both times.– Bob, 1976
Hindsight is 20/20.
President John F. Kennedy:
Too polished [to be a good president].– Milton, 1976
Rest easy, Grandpa Milton. This is just about the only problem we don’t have these days.
1960s student demonstrations:
[They] had a right to their opinions, but why did they express it the way they did?– Milton, 1976
I could not give him a satisfactory answer.– Bob, 1976
I bet it was the mustaches that turned him off.
Milton was and is a Republican. He felt that since the Republicans had the money, they must have been successful in the business world, and if they knew how to run a business, they should know how to run a government.– Bob, 1976
If I had a nickel for every time I’d heard this line of reasoning. . . I would be able to run a government.
President Richard Nixon:
Nixon had a good first four years. Look at his foreign policy. He ruined it all with Watergate. Watergate was the dumbest thing a man could ever let happen. I cannot describe how shocked I was.– Milton, 1976
Dumber than President Just-Walked-Away Hoover?
President Gerald Ford:
He was a do-nothing congressman and a do-nothing president.– Milton, 1976
Coming from Milton, this sounds like a compliment.
After he finished disparaging nearly every president in the last century, Milton had one more nugget of wisdom to impart on his grandson/biographer:
As I was thanking my grandfather for his time, he interrupted me and said I forgot to ask him one question: “What about the future?”– Bob, 1976
America has always come through when the chips are down. You should have confidence in this country. We will always come through.– Milton, 1976
So far, #MiltonsHotTakes have proved just as applicable to today as they were to his own era. I choose to take his words to heart and believe that his track record—and ours—will hold.
But if not, there’s always watered-down whiskey.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.