by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
Thomas Marshall is one of only nine U.S. vice president to serve two full terms, though history has nearly forgotten him. He was popular at the time (1913-1921), partly because his speeches were so entertaining. A talented story and joke teller, and a constant wisecracker, he was probably America’s funniest V.P. He described the Senate as the “Cave of Winds,” which did not endear him to the Washington establishment. President Woodrow Wilson’s top advisor, Edward House, who called Marshall the court jester, said his wit detracted from his effectiveness. “An unfriendly fairy godmother presented him with a keen sense of humor, and nothing is more fatal in politics.”
Marshall is mainly remembered for one famous quip. When long-winded Kansas Sen. Joe Bristow droned on for an hour about “What this country needs,” the vice president whispered to a clerk, “Bristow hasn’t hit it yet. What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.” Ever since, politicians of every generation have made speeches announcing “what this country really needs…” It became such a cliché that one satirist wrote, “What this country really needs is… fewer people who know what this country really needs.”
Who decides what the country needs? Ordinary people – consumers. In a free market, people individually decide what they need, want, and are willing to pay for. Apparently Marshall wasn’t the only one who thought there was a need for five-cent cigars; within a few years dozens of companies sold millions of nickel cigars. Conversely, I thought there was a need for really expensive pencils, but when I tried selling them for $10 each, nobody bought one.