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Revenge, Obama, Picasso and friends

November 05, 2012|By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times Art Critic
  • Speaking at an Ohio campaign rally, Pres. Obama stopped the crowd from booing Mitt Romney by saying "Voting its the best revenge."
Speaking at an Ohio campaign rally, Pres. Obama stopped the crowd from booing… (Associated Press )

Presidential campaigns that are behind in electoral college polling have been known to do desperate things. Perhaps that explains the latest from Romney-Ryan supporters, who are attacking President Obama for a recent speech.

"The dust-up is over a comment Obama made on Friday while stumping in Springfield, Ohio," The Times reported Saturday. "When the president mentioned Romney’s name, the crowd booed. 'No, no, no — don’t boo, vote,' Obama responded. 'Vote. Voting is the best revenge.'"

The Romney campaign immediately announced plans for a television ad featuring footage of Obama and then a clip of Romney saying that people ought not to vote for "revenge" but because of “love of country.” Before they get into the editing room, however, the folks over at Romney campaign HQ might want to call Calvin Tomkins, longtime art writer at the New Yorker.

For a 1971 book, Tomkins borrowed the phrase "living well is the best revenge" from 17th century English poet George Herbert. Tomkins' widely celebrated study, praised by the likes of Nancy Mitford and Russell Lynes, chronicled the charmed lives of painter Gerald Murphy and his wife, Sara. In 1921 the wealthy American couple moved to Paris and then the south of France, where they dubbed their home Villa America.

The Murphys' lively circle of friends included Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger and Ernest Hemingway. Romney was in Le Havre, on the northwest French coast, and in Paris as a Mormon missionary in the 1960s, but maybe he's just not aware of what had gone on earlier down in Antibes.

Of course, maybe he figures that it's the voters who won't know. The Washington Post editorial board wrote on Friday that "there has been one consistency in the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney: a contempt for the electorate."

The phrase "living well is the best revenge" has been in common circulation for at least 40 years, thanks in no small part to Tomkins. In Obama's claim that "voting is the best revenge," it's pretty obvious that voting equals living well — a democratic sentiment with which most citizens are likely to agree.

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