Agnew’s Apt Alliterations

HE HAD HIS OWN PROBLEMS with living on the minus side of life’s ledger, but one-time U.S. vice president Spiro T. Agnew once gave a speech that propelled a four-word phrase into the national lexicon—words apt enough to apply just as fully now as they did then.

On September 11, 1970, Vice President Agnew (who would three years later be forced to resign, pleading no contest to various corruption charges), gave a speech to the California Republican state convention.

The media were quick to pick up on the first of two alliterative phrases he used in his address:

“In the United States today,” Agnew said, “we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club: the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.

Though spoken by Agnew, the alliterations were actually written for him by the late William Safire, at the time a speechwriter for both Agnew and President Richard Nixon. Safire would go on to become a legendary columnist for The New York Times.

Nattering refers to nonstop, empty, purposeless chatter. A nabob is a member of the privileged or influential elite. Agnew’s intended target seemed to be the national media.

Going on 40 years later, Agnew’s broadside against negativism still resonates with me and seems more timely than ever. Increasingly, we live in a society that seems to have abandoned itself to negativity.

For Christians, this has very real implications. Until sin arrived, the universe operated entirely in the realm of the positive. God Himself—and His fundamental nature of love—are all-positive. The essence of sin, of selfishness, is negative. The great battle between good and evil is in a real sense the contest between the positive and the negative.

The shouting pundits—the stunningly rude talking heads—of TV…the revolting purveyors of hate and fear and racial division on so-called “talk radio”…the “us versus them” mentality that has invaded even Christian churches…all these are symptomatic of a tragic and alarming rise in negativity.

I’m saddened when I read the savage, hate-filled comments on various blogs or social networking sites. Bile, venom, and rage flow in word-rivers down the pages.

But I’m even more saddened when I see Christians attacking not only other Christians with whom they disagree, but even non-believers—as if condemning them is the road to winning them.

Can we not still see the wisdom in a better way of witnessing?

“The people of the world are worshiping false gods. They are to be turned from their false worship, not by hearing denunciation of their idols, but by beholding something better. God’s goodness is to be made known.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 299.

Perhaps it’s too much for which to hope for a reversal of negativity. But regrettably, as this earth enters its final wrap-up, I’m quite certain things will get worse rather than better. The influence of God’s Spirit is being withdrawn and an insane and enraged enemy is holding nothing back in his last desperate ploy to eke out a doomed victory to control this planet.

So yes, soon negativity will be forever gone. But as the darkness of negativity closes in around us more every day, we don’t have to become part of it. We can choose to be relentlessly positive people—to stay firmly and constantly connected to the Source of all positivity—and to put forth the daily effort to light candles instead of cursing—or worse, joining—the darkness.


2 responses to this post.

  1. True words, some authentic words man. You made my day.


  2. Thanks much!


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