Mencken on Presidential Elections

by Don Boudreaux on November 3, 2008

in Politics

Here’s the great H.L. Mencken writing in the Baltimore Sun on July 16, 1920:

[W]hen 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.

By the way, please do not accuse me of being elitist.   I can’t speak for Mencken, but I’m quite sure that the same person who is an imbecile in the voting both is an incredibly insightful, talented, and careful welder, taxicab driver, computer-software engineer, Hollywood actor, housewife, furniture mover, professional athlete, novelist, retail clerk — you name it.  Politics makes irrationality rational.  When voters go back to their private lives after venting their largely uninformed and emotion-warped opinions in voting booths, they again become largely intelligent, responsible, and rational beings.


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