Charge of the Light Brigade


| 9/21/2010 2:15:14 PM


Tags: media, Tom Emmer, Tea Party, republicans, H.L. Mencken, Politics, The New Republic, Brad Zellar,

Crazy Tea Party 

There’s nothing like another round of elections in the U.S. to rekindle one’s nostalgia for the rough wisdom of Henry Louis Mencken.

Last night, after reading The New Republic’s “Year of the Nutjob,” which would be funny if it weren’t so appalling, I pulled a copy of Mencken’s Prejudices from the shelf and opened it to a random page. I long ago learned that this exercise—and it really doesn’t matter which Mencken collection you choose—virtually never fails to provide both uncannily up-to-date perspective and a queasy reminder of how little has changed in American politics in the last ninety or so years.

There are, of course, a lot of Mad Hatters at our current national Tea Party, but The New Republic spotlights nine especially brain-boggling candidates (including Minnesota’s own procreative gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer) for the Maddest Hatter crown.

As you peruse that scary bit of business, I’d encourage you to keep in mind these random observations on “the normal Americano” from Mencken’s 1922 essay “On Being An American”:

The mob-man cannot grasp ideas in their native nakedness. They must be dramatized and personalized for him, and provided with either white wings or forked tails.

He is a violent nationalist and a patriot, but he admires rogues in office and always beats the tax collector if he can. 

He is intensely and cocksurely moral, but his morality and his self-interest are virtually identical. 

He is violently jealous of what he conceives to be his rights, but brutally disregardful of the other fellow’s. 

All of which can be boiled down to this: that the United States is essentially a commonwealth of third-rate men. 

Extra credit:  Here’s a typically strange, rambling portrait of Tom Emmer from The Awl. 

gary ashcraft
9/27/2010 1:50:52 PM

I had a professor in college (early 70's) who said "Institutions can only be changed by Revolutions who in time become Institutions and can only be changed by Revolutions that in due time become Institutions and yet again will only be changed by a Revolution that in it's time becomes yet again an Institution that must be overthrown by yet another Revolution . . . .Ad Infinitum" This to shall pass. I for one am a Progressive Populist, just as with the original Populist movement of the late 1800's we as a nation once again have a new Oligarchy just as they did and our solution will be the same. Harry Truman said "The only things that are new is the history we've forgotten"


brad zellar
9/27/2010 1:09:45 PM

Well, Del, you're getting warm. It's not that I judge ordinary people --or, in this instance, complete morons-- incapable of governing *their own* affairs, but that I judge them incapable of governing mine, or my mother's. That said, you can't support a party that's still in thrall to Edmund Burke and at the same time get all Thomas Paine on me.


deld
9/27/2010 1:04:16 PM

If I may condense your argument: you are opposed to democracy. There is no other way to read you argument but that you judge ordinary people incapable of conducting their own affairs. Thus, it is a totalitarian impulse (or rank immaturity, the bitter reaction of a child who does not get his way) that drives you into the arms of Mencken.


brad zellar
9/27/2010 12:46:14 PM

You asked it, Del: What *did* happen to the inherent nobility of ordinary people? And who says so broad a category as "ordinary people" could ever be said to possess inherent nobility? The "inherent nobility of ordinary people" sure strikes me as a pretty high-handed phrase, and a little bit wacky, all things considered. Is inherent nobility a phrase that comes immediately to mind when you listen to the ravings of the Tea Partiers, or when you read that piece from The New Republic? Are there ideas there that make sense to you, and that you are willing to embrace? Is there evidence there --or in the typical displays of oration [sic] that we've come to expect from these Tea Party affairs-- of real communication skills? You're welcome to dismiss Mencken. Lots of folks on the libertarian right are still more than willing to embrace him, however, even if they haven't read him, and it sure seems to me that those quotes hold up pretty well as indictments of both American politics and the populace in general.


deld
9/27/2010 12:17:07 PM

My apologies for the multiple posting.


deld
9/27/2010 12:15:46 PM

My point was not about ideas, per se, but rather about the attitude of many on the left (to include you, apparently), who heap scorn upon the electorate when they do not vote the way they want. Rather than examine a) the quality of the ideas you are promoting, b) your own skills as a communicator of those ideas, or c) the mendacity and inability of the politicians whom you support, you simply throw you hands in the air and moan about the stupidity of the voters. What happened to a belief in the inherent nobility of ordinary people? It appears to have been replaced with with high-handed and ignorant snideness and approving references to the maunderings of a famous anti-semite.


deld
9/27/2010 12:15:42 PM

My point was not about ideas, per se, but rather about the attitude of many on the left (to include you, apparently), who heap scorn upon the electorate when they do not vote the way they want. Rather than examine a) the quality of the ideas you are promoting, b) your own skills as a communicator of those ideas, or c) the mendacity and inability of the politicians whom you support, you simply throw you hands in the air and moan about the stupidity of the voters. What happened to a belief in the inherent nobility of ordinary people? It appears to have been replaced with with high-handed and ignorant snideness and approving references to the maunderings of a famous anti-semite.


deld
9/27/2010 12:15:41 PM

My point was not about ideas, per se, but rather about the attitude of many on the left (to include you, apparently), who heap scorn upon the electorate when they do not vote the way they want. Rather than examine a) the quality of the ideas you are promoting, b) your own skills as a communicator of those ideas, or c) the mendacity and inability of the politicians whom you support, you simply throw you hands in the air and moan about the stupidity of the voters. What happened to a belief in the inherent nobility of ordinary people? It appears to have been replaced with with high-handed and ignorant snideness and approving references to the maunderings of a famous anti-semite.


deld
9/27/2010 12:15:34 PM

My point was not about ideas, per se, but rather about the attitude of many on the left (to include you, apparently), who heap scorn upon the electorate when they do not vote the way they want. Rather than examine a) the quality of the ideas you are promoting, b) your own skills as a communicator of those ideas, or c) the mendacity and inability of the politicians whom you support, you simply throw you hands in the air and moan about the stupidity of the voters. What happened to a belief in the inherent nobility of ordinary people? It appears to have been replaced with with high-handed and ignorant snideness and approving references to the maunderings of a famous anti-semite.


brad zellar
9/24/2010 11:12:13 AM

I'm not sure what ideas are being defeated here, and don't hear a whole lot that passes for ideas in the rhetoric [sic] of the Whack-A-Mole right. All the same, I don't know how you can separate any ideas from the people who embrace them.


deld
9/23/2010 4:38:38 PM

Why is it that every time democracy goes the wrong way, certain people complain about the quality of the electorate, rather than the quality of the ideas that are being defeated? It's as if the people at the Utne Reader don't really believe in democracy.