November 1, 2015

"As much as Poppy Bush scoffs at 'the D-word,' as he calls any reference to dynasty, the Bushes do consider themselves an American royal family."

"They have always pretty much divided the world into Bushes and the help. The patriarch once sent me a funny satire referring to himself and Barbara as the Old King and Queen, W. as King George of Crawford and Jeb as the Earl of Tallahassee. At 91, 41 is living to see Jebbie become president. He is mystified by a world in which Trump, whom he considers a clown, could dethrone the crown prince."

Writes Maureen Dowd, who's been looking closely at the Bushes for a long time. ("In 1993, I went on the road to watch Jeb run for governor in Florida and W. run for governor in Texas.... It was soon clear to me that the Good Son was not as scintillating a campaigner as the Prodigal Son... This was going to be the year that settled sibling scores. Jeb would get what his parents considered his birthright....")

I was interested in the phrase "divided the world into Bushes and the help." The help. That reminds me of a discussion here on the blog the other day. I'd written "Majed Abdulaziz Al-Saud allegedly yelled at 3 female servants in his mansion near Beverly Hills," and a commenter, Carol, said: "I had no idea they were still called 'servants' in this country." And SOJO said: "Servants"? Wtf? Employees." I scrambled to defend myself against what I see as a charge of political incorrectness. I posted 4 comments in quick succession.

1. I took responsibility:
That was my word choice. The LA Times called them "workers."
2. I defended myself:
What's wrong with "servants"? If something is wrong with it, then we shouldn't have switched to calling waiters and waitresses "servers."
3. I re-defended myself:
"Servants" seems like the right word for people who occupy the servants' quarters within a house, especially when the reference is to a big estate with a lot of personnel serving a rich person, a person who might say things like this prince did. ["I am a prince and I do what I want! You are nobody!"]
4. I retreated into scholarship and distanced humility:
From the OED, there's this historical context that might explain an aversion to the word: "b. In the North American colonies in the 17–18th c., and subsequently in the United States, servant was the usual designation for a slave.... 1852 H. B. Stowe Uncle Tom's Cabin II. xxii. 67 Why don't we teach our servants to read?"
The idea that "employees" was the right word struck me as wrong. Particular jobs have names, and "employee" isn't the name of a job. What's the name for employees who live in someone else's house and do all sorts of work that might be required within the household? Is it the word Dowd used, "help"? Or did Dowd use "help" because it's amusing to deploy somebody else's euphemism? Is "servant" insulting?

Oddly enough, Jeb Bush likes to call himself a "servant":
"There are a lot of talkers in politics," Bush said. "Trust me, I was on the debate stage, I see it; some really good people that are really good talkers. I hope you want someone with a servant's heart, that acts on principles — that does things rather than just talks about them."

65 comments:

mccullough said...

the Kardashians are the only royalty in the US

Meade said...

Thank you for your service.

David Begley said...

Dowd had the Beau deathbed request which Biden subsequently denied.

The Queen of Snark has low credibility.

Dowd, Krugman, Brooks and Kruegman. Worthless.

Curious George said...

I'll bet a dollar to a donut that the Bushes treat the help better than the Clintons, or Obamas. Especially Hillary and the Mooch.

Sydney said...

It's true that Dowd has been following the Bushes for a very long time. Too bad she's still stuck in 1993. Something happened to that woman around 2001. She never crossed into the 21st century.

Meade said...

@C George, I'll take that bet. Go serve Columba Bush and send us a report. I'll give you a donut. In fact, I'll treat you so well I'll give you 2 donuts.

Phil 314 said...

There you go quoting Dowd again.

Don't you know feminists don't write columns in the NYT anymore, they carry mattresses on campus now.

traditionalguy said...

Bob Dylan had the last word on this subject too: You're gonna have to serve somebody...be it the Devil or the Lord, you're gonna have to serve somebody.

The human need to have an authority over us who is worthy of serving is a continuous wrestling match. We are social animals.

MathMom said...

Jeb Bush stole the phrase "a servant's heart" from Sarah Palin's 2008 convention speech.

As a point of interest, the link goes to Peggy Noonan, writing immediately after the Republican convention, who at that moment was very impressed by the speech and acknowledged that it was the first time anyone had laid a glove on Obama, like, ever, but then went on to convince herself that Obama's pants-crease would be better to lead the country. This article is worth re-reading. It is shocking how balanced her analysis was on Sept 5, 2008, yet how she swooned for Barry and voted for him two months later.

Meade said...

The trick is to be a servant without being servile.

Meade said...

Also — to be humble without drawing attention to your humility.

Unknown said...

Healthcare service providers. Now there's an elongated PC term for you.

traditionalguy said...

In case you missed it, the issues of serving another in authority are sifted out very well in Wouk's novel The Cain Mutiny. That was a highly interesting topic for the men that recently spent 3 years in a fighting US Navy that had gone from 300 warships to 30,000 warships officered by crews that had been civilians 90 days earlier. For a short cut, see The Cain Mutiny Court Martial which was dramatized in a Broadway play.

Saint Croix said...

I was interested in this comment.

It was soon clear to me that the Good Son was not as scintillating a campaigner as the Prodigal Son...

That's so funny, because I never thought of W as a bad boy. But that's what he was! A bad boy who wanted to redeem himself. And Jeb is the "dutiful" son who buries all his bad stuff and puts up a facade of goodness. But the Bible suggests that the good son has his own issues.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

Yes, this parable is about redemption. But it's also about moral and righteous people who are smug and self-satisfied about how good they are.

After all, Jesus was telling this parable to the Pharisees, who was accusing Jesus of hanging out with sinners and other bad people. And, as usual, Jesus is smacking them with a parable.

Nobody owes you anything, Jeb!

james conrad said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's going to be Marco Rubio VS Hillary next year.

Fernandistein said...

What's wrong with "servants"?

Nothing.
1. One who is privately employed to perform domestic services.
2. One who is publicly employed to perform services, as for a government.
3. One who expresses submission, recognizance, or debt to another: your obedient servant.

If something is wrong with it, then we shouldn't have switched to calling waiters and waitresses "servers."

We call them "waitrons".

Birches said...

Oh, Meade's right. Columba's probably horrible, but she doesn't really count as a Bush, since she married into it. I don't know why, but the wealthy women I know who grew up poor, but married into wealth are some of the snootiest I've met.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


Here's what's wrong with "servant", in that particular context. It's too close to the term "subservient".

Michael K said...

The English call it "In Service."

Maureen Dowd is the clown princess of US new media.

chickelit said...

I hope you want someone with a servant's heart, that acts on principles — that does things rather than just talks about them.

Jeb ripped that off from Sarah Palin whom he dissed to no end. Unforgivable.

MaxedOutMama said...

Servants seems to be the right word - it is the generic for persons hired to do household assistance work.

"Employee" might not even be accurate - some households are staffed by service bureaus. The householder contracts with the service bureau who then staffs the house and actually employs the workers.

The more egalitarian American phrasing is "help" in the context of household servants.

robinintn said...

My grandmother had a housekeeper. Her mother's household had a housekeeper, a cook, and a nurse (to help care for the children). I've never heard any of them called "help" or "servants".

Kirk Parker said...

"Maureen Dowd, who's been looking closely at the Bushes for a long time."

Without intelligence or perception, but yeah.

Curious George said...

"Meade said...
@C George, I'll take that bet. Go serve Columba Bush and send us a report. I'll give you a donut. In fact, I'll treat you so well I'll give you 2 donuts."

Hillary Clinton:

"Where is the G-damn f**king flag? I want the G-damn f**king flag up every f**king morning at f**king sunrise." TO the staff at the Arkansas Governor's mansion

"F**k off! It's enough that I have to see you shit-kickers every day, I'm not going to talk to you too!! Just do your G*damn job and keep your mouth shut." - to her State Trooper bodyguards after one of them greeted her with "Good morning."

"If you want to remain on this detail, get your f**king ass over here and grab those bags!"
- to a Secret Service Agent who was reluctant to carry her luggage because he wanted to keep his hands free in case of an incident.)

"Get f**ked! Get the f**k out of my way!!! Get out of my face!!!" comments to her Secret Service detail agents.

"Stay the f**k back, stay the f**k away from me! Don't come within ten yards of me, or else! Just f**king do as I say, Okay!!!?" screaming at her Secret Service detail.)

Michelle Obama:

"Ex-White House Staffer: Michelle Obama Can Be 'Miserable' to Work For

First Lady Michelle Obama has created a high-pressure environment and a few people who used to be on staff don’t like it. That’s one of the apparent messages from former White House speechwriter Reid Cherlin’s recent article on her called “The Worst Wing.”
It’s clear from his conversations with staffers that Obama is a perfectionist who demands high performance from her staff. “Former staffers describe a high-stress, high-stakes workplace,” he writes, “in which Mrs. Obama scrutinized the smallest facets of her schedule.” She conveyed that her time wasn’t to be wasted. “Mrs. Obama made it clear to her staff that…her time was a valuable asset and requests to use it would have to meet an exceptionally high bar,” he says. One ex-aide said the message conveyed about events was, “Don’t do it if it’s not going to be perfect.”

Make 'em jelly donuts.

Kirk Parker said...

And I agree that Dowd has lost her mind, but I think it happened much earlier than 2001--sometime in the Clinton administration, actually, which leads me to speculate that maybe Bill hit on her, or more likely didn't but she wished he had.

Michael K said...

"maybe Bill hit on her, or more likely didn't but she wished he had."

Or ruined a dress. Or didn't.

The Democrats seem to be the worst White House occupants. Rosalyn Carter was astonished that Nancy Reagan knew her SS man's first name at the inauguration.

robother said...

"Uncle Tom's Cabin II?" There was a sequel (obviously set after Civil War, since the help is being referred to as "servants")? Why wasn't I told?

Ken B said...

Just don't call them "hard workers."

Mary Martha said...

"A servants heart" is completely standard talking point from a Christian worldview.

Jeb didn't steal it from Sarah Palin any more than Sarah Palin stole it from every sermon and homily about the importance of serving others and cultivating 'heart for service'.

dgh said...

I believe the "servants heart" is a reference to Mark 9:35 and similar verses in the Bible that put forth the theme of the virtue of humility and service to others especially from those who would be your leaders

Unknown said...

"Servant heart," or "servant's heart," from an ambitious fundie-type Christian politician (or one who, ahem, grew up in a Northeast-elite-Epicopalian family--atheists pretty much except on occasion, such as while, as a teenager, the fighter plane they had been piloting was just shot down in the shark-infested ocean--but converted to Catholicism to get married, anyway not credibly fundie himself but pandering to same for votes) does not mean what you think it means! It means someone who bosses other people around, but in service to the Lord, of course.

And you betcha the Bushes think of everyone but themselves as "the help." One thing I love about Sarah Palin is that she knows she will never be thought of as anything other than "help," and she hates it and claws back against it. As opposed to Hilary, who seems to have convinced herself she, with her lower-middle-class upbringing, has now transcended that status and is an "equal." Bullshit, still and always "help." I wish those up-suckers on the Supreme Court (both left and right) had the Sarah Palin's horse sense. You are the fuckin help, but all of a sudden you are in power now. Throw off your chains!

Unknown said...

Oh, and here's another little aspect to all that: among both northerners and southerners "the help" tended to be black, back when black people were considered by white people to be happy in "their place." That's Hispanics, now. And, among the NY rich, lots of Eastern Europeans, as housekeepers, nannies, drivers, etc. Irish did time as servants, too, especially back in the 19th century when respectable Anglo phrenologists thought Irishmen were descended from Africans. Point is, being a servant is the absolute pits, and every people who possibly can, come to a) abandon it, and b) be feared as unsafe. It sucks worse than a normal job, because you're intimate with your employers but their entire self-image depends on keing an invisible wall, which your face is jammed against all day long.
Just like robinintn, who, I'm guessing, is from Tennessee, and therefore, I'm guessing, whose family housekeepers, cook, and nurse were black, I have the same staffing history in my family, but from New Jersey. Same racial breakdown of employers and household staff, though. Grandmothers housekeeper was black, and I remember her very fondly. Grandmother grew up in a household with butler, housekeeper, cook, seamstress, and laundress. I heard stories about all these people, but didn't realize they were all black until I was a grown up myself, because that sort of thing did not survive the 1960s, at least, not up north. But residential segregation, of course, did. So as a little white kid in the Northeast in the 60s and 70s, I thought of a person not otherwise specified, as white.
And, for anyone who thinks slavery is so long ago, get this: I'm 53. My father was 28 when I was born. His father was 37 when he was born. So, pretty normal average generation spans. But my grandfather (this is the other side of the family--the Baltimore side, not the Nj side) who was born in 1897, was raised by a family "servant" who had GROWN UP enslaved, owned by his grandparents. She wasn't just born into slavery in 1863 or something and too young to remember it. I'm sure I'm not the only middle aged white person in this country with close family members--grandparents--who, as children, were raised by people who had themselves grown up in slavery. That's how close we are to that abominable institution.

Michael K said...

Ritmo forgot to put his/her name in the "name" box.

The Godfather said...

Is there any factual basis for thinking that the Bushes mistreat domestic employees? Or is this just prejudice?

David said...

If you look at the old census records you will see that "servant" was the job classification for live in help. In 1940 (last year of census publication) domestic service employed about 2.1 million out of a total population of 140 million. Roughly half of the domestic servants were immigrants or blacks. My paternal grandmother and grandfather (and their parents) both worked in domestic service at a point in their lives.

David said...

I wonder who does Maureen's laundry and who cleans her house? Among other stuff.

David said...

A neighbor was the wife of a senior military officer who was killed in action in the war on terror. At one point he was involved in recruitment and personnel. Her stories of how the Clintons treated their military aides in the White House put the C in C and his spouse in a very bad light.

David said...

This one does not bother me:

It’s clear from his conversations with staffers that Obama is a perfectionist who demands high performance from her staff. “Former staffers describe a high-stress, high-stakes workplace,” he writes, “in which Mrs. Obama scrutinized the smallest facets of her schedule.” She conveyed that her time wasn’t to be wasted. “Mrs. Obama made it clear to her staff that…her time was a valuable asset and requests to use it would have to meet an exceptionally high bar,” he says. One ex-aide said the message conveyed about events was, “Don’t do it if it’s not going to be perfect.”

It's the White House. It's supposed to be perfect.

Unknown said...

I'm certain they don't mistreat them at all. With their social class, I'd be shocked if they were anything other than kind. one can be kindly, when the social gap is, from ones point of view, utterly unbridgeable.

William said...

The Bushes are unfailingly friendly and courteous to Maureen Dowd. I wonder if this has something to do with hurling coals of fire. Or maybe there's a Machiavellian subplot. Among thoughtful Republicans, Dowd's hostility is a form of endorsement.......The Bushes seem to be a remarkably sane and successful family. Dowd's wish to characterize their dynamics as Sophoclean is more a demonstration of the fever swamp of her brain than the deficits of the Bush family. There are consequences to legalized pot ingestion, especially in its toxic brownie form.

chickelit said...

Mary Martha said...
"A servants heart" is completely standard talking point from a Christian worldview.

Jeb didn't steal it from Sarah Palin any more than Sarah Palin stole it from every sermon and homily about the importance of serving others and cultivating 'heart for service'.


True enough, but you are ignoring who first injected it into the political sphere. Can you find an earlier example of political usage than Palin's?

chickelit said...

St. Croix nailed it at 8:23.

chickelit said...

St. Croix wrote: That's so funny, because I never thought of W as a bad boy.

You probably never saw (or dismissed) Oliver Stone's "W." That was the gospel truth for those who consumed Michael Moore's collected works.

wildswan said...

I worked as a live-in housekeeper and I regarded it as a type of job. Just quit college, had to get a job right away, this was in a house on an island in a lake. Had my employer called me a servant to my face, I would have quit. Now ... how they thought about it all - it's hard to say. They probably wanted me to have "servant's heart" but I thought hard work, efficiency, attention to their whims and a kindly attitude toward their failings would do.

No one doing the work which servants used to do wants to be called a servant because it encourages outrageous attitudes, just as in this story where it's pretty evident that Prince Idiot thinks he has servants

David said...

Excerpt from Census Enumerators Instructions 1930:

131. Column 6. Relationship to head of family.-Designate the head of the family, whether husband or father, widow, or unmarried person of either sex, by the word "head"; for other members of a family write wife, father, mother, son, daughter, grandson, daughter-in-law, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, boarder, lodger, servant, etc., according to the particular relationship which the person bears to the head of the family.

132. Home-maker.-Column 6 is to be used also to indicate which member of the family is the "home-maker," that is, which one is responsible for the care of the home and family. After the word "wife," "mother," or other term showing the relationship of such person to the head of the family, add the letter "H," thus: "Wife-H." Only one person in each family should receive this designation.


The boarding house was common in the past. Many people from many families (mostly male) under the same roof. Their variety of occupations was fascinating too.

Madison Mike said...

Hmm. Read the post about servants and then went to church where the passage being preached on included (Daniel 9:6) "We have not listened to your servants the prophets...." Sounds as if posters feel servants deal only with mundane duties for their boss/master/employer. Could carrying out the commands of one in authority be rendering service?

Unknown said...

Madison Mike and the other biblically literate posters are correct: Christianesque politicians mean "servant" in the same way the Holy Roman Emporer would have envisioned his relationships: he is Gods servant, and everyone else serves God by obeying him.

Unknown said...

Who is ritmo?

Laslo Spatula said...

If putting the Bushes to the Guillotine guaranteed that the Clintons and the Kennedys followed suit I would be OK with that.

I am Laslo.

Milwaukie guy said...

My folks are from Iowa. The help refers to hired hands. In my experience, they were always white. Maybe they were from a different church.

MathMom said...

Demi Moore thinks being a servant is cool. I pledge to be a servant to our president.

Larvell said...

Well, if Maureen Dowd says something about a Republican, you can be sure it's true.

rp said...

It was rather startling that "a servant's heart" was not recognized IMMEDIATELY by this blog as common Christian phrasing.

chickelit said...

rp said...
It was rather startling that "a servant's heart" was not recognized IMMEDIATELY by this blog as common Christian phrasing.

But we were schooled on this very topic here, years ago: link

chickelit said...

I take it for granted that the phrase was Christian phrasing. Everybody should know that. But I repeat for the second time that Bush ripped this off from Palin in the political context to add insult to injury. The irony would not be so delicious nor would anyone care but for Jeb's deliberate snubbing of Palin and the Tea Party.

Sam L. said...

Can anyone give me a reason (that I could accept) for believing MoDo?

The Godfather said...

@Sam L.: No, I have no reason why you should believe Dowd, but if you DO believe, I've got a really good deal for you on beach front property in Arizona.

Unknown said...

It's common phrasing of the type of Christians who secretly think that only fundies like themselves are truly Christian, and who self-righteously call themselves "Christian," as opposed to, for instance, Presbyterian (bonus points for knowing who called himself that, recently, and guessed you would be surprised!). The truly hilarious thing is, if there is anything in the Bible that's at all accurate, the one thing Jesus really hated was self-righteousness. And, he was very much down on divorce. Like all wandering, mendicant prophets, he was big on feeding and sheltering the poor. And that, since the end of days was nigh, if you wanted to go to Heaven you should sell everything you own and give it all away (not a tenth of it, all of it.) And leave your family.

I have always wondered how people who REALLY REALLY believe there is an all-powerful God, and he made himself human, and told us to do these few simple things, how is it that they don't do those things, and instead mostly live pretty normal lives like everyone else? I always think really true Christian believers are the Amish, Shakers, and St. Francis.

Well, of course, "nigh" means different things to different people. In the old joke, a man asks, "Lord, what is a million years to you?" And God says, "it is as but a minute." "Lord, what is a million dollars to you?" "it is as but a penny." "Can I have a penny?" "Sure, just a minute . . ."

traditionalguy said...

In the Christian context Servant is a tricky word. Remember Jesus likes verbal conundrums such as, "the last shall be first and the first shall be last." Then he throws out for discussion that the Greatest Authority in The Kingdom, next to Himself I suppose, shall be the servant of all.

And that has to be understood in pari materia with Jesus claiming to be Messiah of the Jews. That title means the next warrior King David, who "served God" by killing the enemies of God.

The clearest picture of Jesus as Messiah Jesus is Psalm 110, and there, with God the Father's help He rules in the midst of his enemies until they are all under his feet when He returns to slaughter all of the Kings who have attacked the Jews.



Beldar said...

Of all the characterizations you could write for Maurine Dowd, you write that she's someone "who's been looking closely at the Bushes for a long time."

Yeah, I suppose that is the best that can be said for her. She's old. She's been observing cluelessly and writing about that hysterically for many, many, many years.

Unknown said...

----I'm sure I'm not the only middle aged white person in this country with close family members--grandparents--who, as children, were raised by people who had themselves grown up in slavery. That's how close we are to that abominable institution.

No.

I’m three generations from an Irishman who came to Ohio to start a medical at the beginning of the last century. Your sense of time and generations is distorted. Slavery is receding in the past as it should be.

Today we face the new slavery - socialism and despotism. Along with hordes of middle easterners invading our civilizational home. Lets worry about the monster’s ahead of us rather than the one behind.

Skeptical Voter said...

Moochie's time a "valuable asset". My bleeding backside!

Unknown said...

Hi, unknown! My sense of time and generations is highly accurate. The fact that you are descended--like me!--from an Irish immigrant in no way refutes my assertion that there are certainly many middle-aged white people in the U.S. today (let alone black people, for whom it is even more frequently true) whose grandparents were raised by people who had grown up in slavery.

We all have 16 great-great-grandparents. Among my 16, I'm five generations from an Irish boy whose family was starving in the Famine. His older brothers set out for Australia, and they promised to send for him, and they never did. He made his way to America, alone. His granddaughter was my father's mother, and all her ancestors were of Irish descent. She married the man from Baltimore who had been raised by one of his family's freed slaves.

I'm also descended from a German woman, who was "in service" as a governess to a rich NY City family that summered in Newport. There, she met my great-grandfather, who ran a small butcher/grocery store. (His grandfather had immigrated from Germany, settled in Virginia, and served in the Confederate Army.) Their son married my grandmother, the one I wrote about with the houseful of black workers in her childhood. (All of her ancestors that I know of had lived in New Jersey for generations.)

Thinking about her now, I never heard her call any of the people who worked for her parents by any collective term ("help," etc.) They were always named individuals in the stories she told. Her father had been orphaned at 11, left school in 5th grade to work as an office boy, studied law at night, and ended up a successful lawyer and judge. He was reasonably conservative, but he handed down NJ's own "Brown v. Board" decision in 1943, from the court of Errors and Appeals, as it was called in those days. They weren't particularly rich; it's just that most Americans were poor, in the early 1900s, and running a big middle-class household (five kids) took an immense amount of physical work.

Meanwhile, another branch of the slave-holders from Maryland married into a family of Welsh Quakers who landed in Pennsylvania in 1690 and were always staunch abolitionists.

America is a very, very mixed bag. My point, however, is that many of us--whites as well as blacks--are extremely, personally, physically close to the institution of slavery that formed and drove this country's development for centuries.

Unknown said...

Hey unknown, do you have any idea how many citizens of the U.S. actually HAD slaves? Or servants? Or how many people currently in the U.S. with a preponderance of their African descendants as slaves? It's not surprising that your ancestry is different than someone else's. It's disappointing that we as a nation cannot separate white people as individuals but insist that non-whites are.

Nichevo said...

You people are nuts. Butlers and maids and footmen and chauffeurs and such are definitely servants of an establishment. As opposed to a cleaning woman who cleans many houses.