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De-Bunking Buncombe

It’s a beautiful day and I haven’t done anything fun in a while.  Let’s try this from two years ago – back when we could laugh at Trump.

Every election year, it’s critical to evoke the Founding Fathers. What plan for a strong military would be complete without the spurious blessing of the Father of The Country, George Washington? How could you float a plan for tax givebacks, er, reform without evoking the Father of Liberty, Thomas Jefferson? Who would dare enter a conversation about the sanctity of our national credit without the hallowed words of Alexander Hamilton – or, indeed, his apparent ability to sing and dance his way to 16 Tony nominations?

No one, that’s who. But the process of doing so actually invokes one of the most important Founding Fathers of all, Felix Walker. His contribution to politics is nearly endless and absolutely critical.

Felix Walker, after all, was a US Representative from Buncombe Country, North Carolina, and as such gave us the concept of “bunk”.

There are no known portraits of Felix Walker, so here is a pic of Mel Gibson from "The Patriot". Why not?

There are no known portraits of Felix Walker, so here is a pic of Mel Gibson from “The Patriot”. Why not?

The details of Walker’s life are, appropriately, a bit sketchy. He was born in what is now West Virginia in 1753, but moved around the southern colonies a lot. Walker fought in the Revolution with North Carolina and went on to represent the Tarheel State in Congress in from 1817 – 1823. That’s where he made his mark on politics forever.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was slogging its way through the legislative process like anything contentious, which is to say slowly and painfully. For those not familiar with the bill, it declared half of the state would be pronounced “mis-sour-EE” and the other half “mis-sour-AH”.

No, actually, the legislation was a complex package which admitted Missouri as a slave state, Maine as a free state, everything north of Missouri would be free states in the future, and, most importantly, Congressmen would continue to hate each other but not actually shoot at their opponents for 41 years.

At the end of the mind numbing process which produced this compromise Walker rose to speak. His narrative, titled “Speech for Buncombe”, was very long. So long, in fact, that the rest of the House was afraid he’d keep talking until the Civil War arrived right on schedule.

Paul, if you think you have it bad, you ain't paying attention to history.

Paul, if you think you have it bad, you ain’t paying attention to history.

They yelled at him, “Stop!”, “Please, please stop!” and “Stop or I’ll kill myself!” It was all in vain. Walker was determined to get up there and ramble on about the people back home – almost certainly so that he could tell them their voice was heard on this critical legislation. Nevermind that no one could hear him over the wailing, whining, and shouting in the House chamber.

At this great juncture in US history, the House had to pause for its usual nonsense – elevated to an art form. It was a moment to remember.

Remember it, we do, because “Buncombe” joined the English language to describe meaningless political speech for purely electoral purposes. Spelled “bunkum” and later shortened to “bunk”, it came to mean, “foolish or untrue words”. It’s essentially the same thing.

Monument to Felix Walker somewhere near where he is believed to be buried in Clinton, Mississippi.

Monument to Felix Walker somewhere near where he is believed to be buried in Clinton, Mississippi.

Which, naturally, brings us to Trump. How much is he the undisputed king of bunk, by any definition you care to use? It’s best to ask the popular “de-bunking” site, politifact.com, which evaluates statements and tabulates results by candidates. If there is a better antidote to mind-numbing nonsense than mind-numbing data please let us all know.

Seriously, there has to be a better way to refute this nonsense.

How do today’s candidates score? After evaluating 579 statements by President Obama, politifact found 21% were “true” and 27% were “mostly true” – a net truth rating of 48%. Similar results were found for Sanders, 51% true, and Clinton, 50% true.

Trump? His net rating was 2% “true” and 6% “mostly true” for a net truth score of only 8%. His score is very similar to that of “chain emails” at 6% overall. It’s incredible!

Seriously, since we’re on word origins here, Trump really is “not credible”.

Where would we be without the contribution of Rep Felix Walker, the original Voice of Buncombe? Like all great men of the past, Walker’s nonsense was probably well grounded in eloquence and grand ideas. Today’s practitioners probably can’t hold a candle to his rhetorical ability as they make up whatever BS works for the moment. Yet this is all conjecture since Walker’s speech was not written down and is remembered only as gibberish which interrupted an historic moment.

That, ultimately, is the moral of this story.

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