Mencken on Idiots.

We have this from out brother "pbrownlee."

"Let us not forget the sage:

Mencken Mencken (Baltimore Evening Sun, 26 July 1920): "The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily 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". Pbrownlee


Ah.  Yes.  Brings to mind the Mencken observation at a ’40s national convention.  Looking across the room at a meeting, he spied a political harridan haranguing the crowd and remarked, "Look at that girl, makes you want to burn every bed in the world."  pl

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16 Responses to Mencken on Idiots.

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Idiot – from the Greek word “Idiots”: he who walks alone (shunned?)

  2. JD says:

    Be interesting if the likes of Mencken, Rodgers, Bierce, and Twain were alive, observing the current farce.
    Have no idea what they would say, but I’m sure it would be emminently quotable.

  3. canuck says:

    No sane man, employing an American plumber to repair a leaky drain, would expect him to do it at the first trial, and in precisely the same way no sane man, observing an American Secretary of State in negotiation with Englishmen and Japs, would expect him to come off better than second best. Third-rate men, of course, exist in all countries, but it is only here that they are in full control of the state, and with it of all the national standards.
    Prejudices: Third Series [1922]: “On Being an American”, p.22
    Mencken quotes
    The human race is in such a dreadful state that no rational person can talk about it without resorting to seditious and obscene language.
    “Editorials” in the The
    American Mercury, Nov 30, p.285

    A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.
    Life interview: “Mr. Mencken Sounds Off”, August 5, 1946, p.48
    Large collection of Mencken quotes

  4. Rider says:

    Hard to imagine a contemporary journalist putting a paragraph like that in print, isn’t it? Mencken’s era was worlds away from the coporate climate in which what passes for journalism is practised today. High time journalists got back to the business of bullshit calling and moron outing! They are a major part of the problem as things stand; not the solution.

  5. ked says:

    eventually, and again, some artist-warriors in the media will realize that the path to fame (& even fortune) is to run afar from the beaten path.

  6. Frank Durkee says:

    If the bottom line is money, fame, promotion, or increase of revenue,then no individual or organization can be trusted to seek in any rigorus way any truth but these. Save for the exceptions whom we routinely try to ignore and/or destroy. In these times Jay Gould’s comment is apropo: “Nothiln lost save honor.”

  7. H’mmm… not sure I’m happy with the sexist implications of your use of the term “harridan”. Also, imho Mencken only achieved the prominence he did in the US because of the abysmally low level of the country’s general capabilities in the art of rhetoric. (Compared with, for example, the UK.) I find Mencken vastly over-rated and not infrequently wrongheaded.
    W/ regard to the main HLM quote cited in the post, while it may seem that the White House is now “adorned by a downright moron”, I believe that (1) that is not totally true, and (2) the claim that this (moronic) personage “represents” the intelligence level of “the plain folks of this land” is very unfair to the American people. Inasmuch as at one point Bush could have been said to “represent” the will of the US citizenry this was so more because of the chicanery and manipulation of Mr. Rove than because of the claimed idiocy of Americans in general…

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Sorry. I meant “Harpy.”
    Unseriously, you can’t expect Mencken to be other than he was, an archtype of what America has chosen to become. pl

  9. Got A Watch says:

    Meanwhile, back in the Real World TM, while idiots fiddle and American stature burns out of control:
    “Iraqi leader criticises US report”
    “While we argue over Iraq, we are losing Afghanistan”
    “CIA is undermining British war effort, say military chiefs”
    “The Americans don’t see how unwelcome they are, or that Iraq is now beyond repair. The main purpose of Bush invading Iraq was to retain power at home”
    “After Baker, what next for the war in Iraq? He is under intense pressure after last week’s damning report on Iraq. But George Bush is likely to disappoint his critics by pouring in more troops”,,1968558,00.html
    I could post many more of these “fantasy-challenged” links, but we here all know the facts are as they are. It is seemingly impossible to get any reality to penerate the dim recesses of the neo-con anti-mind, a region where no daylight has ever shone.

  10. Got A Watch says:

    Apparently, GWB actually said this this week:
    “”Some reports are issued and just gather dust. And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody.To show you how important this one is, I read it.””
    What more can you say to that?

  11. Larry says:

    I would like to know the source of this quote.
    When people are quoted in various blogs and elsewhere, I wish folks could site the source. I’ve seen too many quotes attributed to various people that turned out not to belong to them. These circulate and quite soon become “fact”. Please understand, I like it. I just also like accuracy.

  12. Radio Left says:

    Mikes Blog Roundup

    Crooks and Liars
    Norbizness: Another look at how The Left is harshing the national mellowbut good-bye …

  13. Peterp says:

    “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.”
    To which, one can only rejoin: “Hallalujah! We’ve reached the promised land!”

  14. Will says:

    on the basic goodness of the American people who on occasion resist the manipulations of crass politicians:
    Shekar Ramanuja “S.R.” Sidarth is a 20-year old resident of the U.S. state of Virginia, where he was born and raised. His volunteer work for the Senate campaign of Democrat James Webb placed him at the center of a controversy over the use of a racial slur by Senator George Allen (Webb’s opponent) in August 2006.
    According to The Washington Post, Sidarth was a straight-A student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, one of Fairfax County’s finest high schools. He is also a tournament chess player, a quiz team captain, a sportswriter at his college newspaper, a Capitol Hill intern for Senator Joseph Lieberman and an active member of the Hindu temple his parents helped establish in Maryland. Like Allen, the 6’4 tall Sidarth also played football but only at the high school level where he played defensive end, tight end, punter and kicker. Sidarth gained a coveted spot in Professor Larry Sabato’s small, popular seminar on campaigns and elections by writing a three word essay, “I am Macaca.”[1] He is currently a student at the University of Virginia[1].
    On Friday, August 11th, 2006, Allen called Sidarth a word that sounded like either macaca or macaque. Allen followed up with “So welcome, let’s give a welcome to Macaca here! Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia!” Sidarth is of Indian ancestry, but was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia. Allen was born in California. Sidarth said he was immediately stung by the term. The term was interpreted to have been a possible racial slur against him, most notably in light of the fact that “macaca” is a standard and very negative slur against dark-skinned people used by the French colonists in North Africa; George Allen’s mother was from that group, and Allen speaks French, learned from her.[3]
    Sidarth was filming an Allen campaign stop in Breaks, Virginia, Dickenson County near the Kentucky border. Sidarth had filmed numerous Allen campaign events in the previous weeks.
    Sidarth’s video of the incident can be viewed on YouTube.[4]
    In an article authored by Sidarth, which appeared in The Washington Post after the 2006 Senate elections, Sidarth pointed out that he felt that Allen’s actions were “not representative of how [he] was treated” while traveling around the state of Virginia. Sidarth further noted that Webb carried Dickenson County, the site of the “Macaca” incident”, suggesting the “race card” no longer worked.[3].
    wikipedia. a lot of it my edit

  15. pbrownlee says:

    Well, I don’t have an 86-year-old copy of the Baltimore Evening Sun in front of me but I’d be very surprised if this citation was far off the mark — “Bayard vs. Lionheart”, Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26,1920 (reprinted in H.L. Mencken – A Carnival of Buncombe, edited by Malcolm Moos, The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1956 — reprinted Univ. Chicago Press, 1980).
    For the full piece, go to
    One more sample for fellow Menckenistas — “The weakness of those of us who take a gaudy satisfaction in our ideas, and battle for them violently, and face punishment for them willingly and even proudly, is that we forget the primary business of the man in politics, which is the snatching and safeguarding of his job. That business, it must be plain, concerns itself only occasionally with the defense and propagation of ideas, and even then it must confine itself to those that, to a reflective man, must usually appear to be insane. The first and last aim of the politician is to get votes, and the safest of all ways to get votes is to appear to the plain man to be a plain man like himself, which is to say, to appear to him to be happily free from any heretical treason to the body of accepted platitudes — to be filled to the brim with the flabby, banal, childish notions that challenge no prejudice and lay no burden of examination upon the mind”.

  16. Tam O'Tellico says:

    So-called Conservatives like to see themselves as realists. They see the world as a jungle and themselves as tigers. But in reality, they are not conservative at all. Acquisitives might be a better designation, since their only real aim seems to be the acquisition of obscene wealth.
    True Conservatives understand with Thomas Hobbes that while the world may be a jungle, a place where life is “nasty, brutish and short”, there is nevertheless a way out of the jungle. Hobbes argued for enlightened self-interest; that is, the idea that one’s own best interests are frequently served by surrendering one’s apparent self-interest to the good of the whole, the Commonweal as Hobbes put it.
    Would that Arab and Jew, Shia and Sunni, Hutu and Tutsi, Ulster Scot and Irish Catholic, Hardshell Baptist and Unbeliever understood that connection. Would that political leaders and their propagandist henchmen not exploit our differences for their own immediate gain. Would that fat-cat CEOs and Free-Market apologists understood what Hobbes, as well as Adam Smith, said about the responsibility for promoting the commonweal rather than promoting wretched excess.
    Alas, I fear that before any of that happens, the lion will lie down with the lamb.

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