Kipling for Press Secretary

Doesn’t this headline catch your attention? Rod Blagojevich and the Poetry Slam. Congratulations to NPR for a curiosity-inspiring hook. 

The Illinois governor, under fire for his handling of President-elect Obama’s Senate seat (see the Chicago Tribune), turned to Rudyard Kipling for comfort during a press conference Friday. Blagojevich quoted lines from the poem “If,” available in full here.

He’s not the only one:


British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called on Kipling following a bomb attack in 1984. During the Iran-contra scandal, a congressman quoted Kipling as he praised the loyalty of Ollie North. Even University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams quoted Kipling in the mid-1990s when his team was sucking wind.

Kipling’s oft-cited poem may be appropriate for its message of perseverance and determination: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,” and so on. However, public figures – politicians like Blagojevich, celebrities, and others – would do well also to remember a few lines that appear later in the poem:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,

The true irony, as the NPR article points out, is that Kipling wrote his poem to honor Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, “who led a raid by the Brits in 1895 that resulted in disastrous defeat.” Tragic hero? Probably. Ideal role model? Not so much. Although I am thrilled to see political leaders recognizing the valuable rhetoric of the literati, closer scrutiny of their chosen poetic heroes might be worth a Google search.


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