Charge of the Light Brigade


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.

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.

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