Origin of “The 23rd Qualm”

2006-03-06 20:14

Note [2009-12-10]: see added information at the bottom.

Claim: a retired Methodist minister wrote the piece circulating in the blogosphere under the title “The 23rd Qualm,” which begins:

  Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want. 
  He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests. 
  He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness. 
  He restoreth my fears. 
  He leadeth me down paths of international disgrace
    for his ego’s sake.
 ...

Status: false.

On March 26, 2004, the New Hampshire Gazette ran the earliest version I have found that ridiculed George W. Bush. It was a letter to the editor by liberal activist Brad Carr. The Gazette commented that the rant had been around since the Hoover years. Here is the entire text as published in the NH Gazette:

  Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want. 
  He maketh logs to be cut down in national forests. 
  He leadeth trucks into the still wilderness. 
  He restoreth my fears. 
  He leadeth me down paths of international disgrace
    for his ego’s sake.
  Yea, though I walk through the valley of pollution and war, 
  I will find no exit, for thou art in office.
  Thy tax cuts for the rich and thy media control,
   they discomfort me. 
  Thou preparest an agenda of deception in the presence of
    thy religion. 
  Thou anointest my head with foreign oil.
  My health insurance runneth out.
  Surely megalomania and false patriotism shall follow me
   all the days of thy term, 
  And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement 
   forever. 

On the Organization of American Historians site a book review (by a high school student) backs up the NH Gazette’s claim. The book is The Depression and the New Deal: A History in Documents by Robert S. McElvaine, published in 2000. The review excerpts the “1932nd Psalm”:

  Hoover is my shepherd, I am in want, 
  He maketh me to lie down on park benches, 
  He leadeth me by still factories, 
  He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party…

Further, an archive of the Charlton County (GA) Herald shows that this newspaper printed the Hoover psalm in 1930 (search on that page for “new psalm”), explaining its origin with “one of our friends handed in this, which appealed to him, so we reprint it.”

I found versions of the 23rd Qualm tailored to Roosevelt, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton; but nothing for Truman, Eisenhower [see below], Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, or George H. W. Bush.

Here is one of the Reagan versions. Those for Nixon and Carter are quite similar.

  Reagan is my shepherd. I shall not want.
  He leadeth me beside the still factories.
  He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party
  He guideth me to the path of Unemployment for the Party’s sake
  I do not fear evil for thou art against me.
  Thou Anointest my wages with freezes so that
    my expenses runneth over my income.
  Surely poverty and hard living shall follow the Republican Party
  and I shall live in a Rented House forever.

By the time of Reagan, the political psalm had grown a tail. The versions I found aimed at Reagan, Carter, and Nixon all end with some variant of:

  5000 years ago, Moses said, “Pack your camel, pick up your
  shovel mount your ass, and I shall lead you into the promised
  land.”

  5000 years later… F.D.R. said, “Lay down your shovel,
  sit on your ass, and light up your Camel. This is the promised
  land.”

  Today… [Nixon/Carter/Reagan] will tax your shovel, sell your
  camel, kick your ass, and tell you there is no promised land.

  PS

  I am glad I am an American… I am glad I am free
  but I wish I were a doggie and [Nixon/Carter/Reagan] were a tree!

The earliest version I found to point at Bill Clinton was posted in December 1993 in a collection of humorous email maintained by a student at the University of Delaware. I found the Clinton version reposted in 1996 and 1999. Here is the 1996 variant:

  Bill Clinton is my shepherd, whom I do not want.
  He maketh many lies about green pastures.
  He leadeth me beside the still factories.
  He restoreth my doubt about the Democratic party.
  He leadeth me in the paths of Socialism for his name’s sake
  Yea, I will walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Debt
  And I will fear much evil for he is with me
  And Hillary Rodham and her staff they discomfort me
  He preparest a tax hike for me
  To give presents to mine enemies.
  He anointest my wages with inflation so that my expenses
    runneth over my income.
  Surely proverty and hard times shall follow me
  All the days of his administration,
  And I will dwell in the rented HUD house forever.

After the 2004 appearance of a Bush variant of The 23rd Qualm, I found a couple of blog postings early in July 2005. And then on July 28 of that year, Arianna Huffington’s blog picked it up. After this exposure the meme took off. A Google search for “The 23rd Qualm” now lists 342 pages, and a search for “Bush is my shepherd” returns 9,560.


Note added 2009-12-10: I received a note from Jim O’Neal, who is Research Director of the Mississippi Blues Trail project and the founding editor of Living Blues Magazine.

I read your blog about the 1932nd Psalm and its variations from 1930 on up. I was searching for information on this psalm, as I have an actual recording of it [see illustration on left] by Gabriel, a blues singer/disc jockey from East St. Louis. He called it Political Prayer Blues and it is from the Eisenhower era, so you can add Ike to your list. I believe it was recorded in 1956 but perhaps a few years earlier. I will be reissuing this on a CD by Gabriel in early 2010. Gabriel, as he has been known for decades (he still has a radio show in St. Louis) made his earliest recordings under the moniker The Flock-Rocker, Crown Prince of the Blues.

I also found the psalm in a 1954 issue of the Jackson Advocate, an African American newspaper from Mississippi, as Prayer for Ike [see illustration on right].

On a related topic, you might be interested to know that a number of blues singers recorded songs about their woes in relation to Eisenhower (most famously, “Eisenhower Blues” by J.B. Lenoir) and later, Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes, and songs in support of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton, Obama, et al.

gabriel-political prayer blues jackson advocate

Note added 2017-01-05: An email from Bernice Duran contained the full text of the Nixon version of the Qualm. She found it going through her father's papers, titled The Fate of the Republican Party or the 23rd Qualm. I append it here because the site behind the Nixon link above (Geocities! Rhymes with atrocities!) is long gone.

  Nixon is my shepard, I am in want.
  He maketh me to lie down on park benches,
  He leadeth me beside the still factories,
  He restoreth my doubt in the Reublican party,
  He guideth me in the path of unemployment for his name sake.
  Yes, though I walk through the valley of soup kitchens,
  I am hungry, I fear evil, for he is against me.
  He annointeth my income with taxes
  So my expenses runneth over my income.
  Surely poverty and hard living shall follow me
  All the days of the Republican administration and I
  Shall live in the poor house forever.

  

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