The American public doesn't need to be reminded that...

Salmagundi

August 20, 1992

The American public doesn't need to be reminded that statements by politicians should be taken with a grain, if not an entire tablespoon, of salt.

Nonetheless, reminders came during speeches by former President Ronald Reagan and presidential wanna-be Patrick J. Buchanan Monday night at the Republican National Convention in Houston.

In his address to the delegates, Mr. Reagan quoted Abraham Lincoln as having stated, "You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."

Doesn't quite have that Lincolnesque lilt, does it? That the author of the Gettysburg Address could produce prose so harsh in content and so sing-songy in style is hard to believe, and with good reason: Old Abe didn't write it.

It seems the credit for the quotes belongs to an Erie, Pa., minister named William John Henry Boetcker, who printed them in a 1916 pamphlet titled "Lincoln on Private Property."

Apparently, some readers of Mr. Boetcker's maxims mistakenly believed they were written by Lincoln, and so the litany of "You cannots" came to be attributed to the 16th president. Mr. Reagan is said to have found the quotes, with Lincoln's name attached to them, in "The Toastmaster's Treasure Chest" by Herbert V. Prochnow.

As for Mr. Buchanan, his speech included a story about a Los Angeles retirement home that had to be protected by Army troops during the riots there last spring.

But according to the manager of the home, the elderly residents themselves guarded the place, not Army personnel.

Details, details.

Ronald Reagan, a man who never hesitated to put his storytelling skills to political use, would be the first to say that unimportant things such as facts should never get in the way of a good story.

* * *

IN HONOR of John Cage, the avant-garde composer who died Aug. 12 and who was known for such offbeat works as the one in which musicians sat silently onstage for four minutes and 33 seconds, we offer the following tribute:

Cage was 79 at the time of his death.

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