Wednesday, November 10, 2004

H. L. Mencken on the Presidency

I found this H. L. Mencken quote at Andrew Sullivan's blog. Mencken could be a bit vicious, but no one ever accused him of lacking eloquence. The quote is from 1920:

“When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental--men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost... [A]ll the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre--the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

This from a time when Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson were the three most recent Presidents! I can only imagine what Mencken would say today.


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