H.L. Menken regarding politicians:
"I not infrequently find myself looking to them to be able, diligent, candid and even honest. Plainly enough, that is too large a order"While browsing the basement of an antique store in the Texas Hill Country this Summer I stumbled across a copy of A Mencken Chrestomathy, the Sage of Baltimore's last published work, printed in the year of my birth. The book gathers bits and pieces of the author's writings over the course of his career as a critic, editor and editorial writer, and cold eyed observer of American politics. Starting today, I will mine this treasure trove of Menkenia for nibbles from his 20th Century observations and hope to provoke some discussion of the political realities of our own time.
Continue reading for today's excerpt and discussion.
After damning politicians up hill and down dale for many years, as rogues and vagabonds, frauds and scoundrels, I sometimes suspect that, like everyone else, I often expect too much of them. Though faith and confidence are surely more or less foreign to my nature, I not infrequently find myself looking to them to be able, diligent, candid and even honest. Plainly enough, that is too large a order, as anyone must realize who reflects upon the manner in which they reach public office. They seldom if ever get there by merit alone, at least in democratic states. Some times, to be sure, it happens, but only by a kind of miracle. They are chosen normally for quite different reasons, the chief of which is simply their power to impress and enchant the intellectually underprivileged. It is a talent like any other, and when it is exercised by a radio crooner, a movie actor or a bishop, it even takes on a certain austere and sorry respectability. But it is obviously not identical with a capacity for the intricate problems of statecraft.
From The Politician, lecture, Institute of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University, NY NY, January 4, 1940
Gee, does any of that sound like anybody we know in politics? How about his insight that the process by which we select our politicians is weighted against electing anyone who is any good at governing. I'm sure glad we don't have that problem any more and we get such great candidates. What? Oh, yeah. What was I saying?
More than two decades before Jack Kennedy out performed Dick Nixon in the 1st nationally televised Presidential debate, Mencken recognized that the essence of American politics is marketing, entertainment and misdirection. If only the Sage were still here to comment on the Tea Party. Does anyone have an idea what he might say? Possibly, "I told you so."
I am going to create an H.L. Mencken Society group and post this diary there, along with others I may post from time to time in similar form inspired by my readings from the Chrestomathy, or sometimes, perhaps, when something in current events reminds me of something Mencken said. I invite anyone to post to that group who appreciates this controversial and not entirely uncontradictory giant of American letters and has something to say that is about or inspired or influenced by Mencken's work and helps illuminate some aspect of contemporary political or social affairs.