Mencken--Where Are You When We Need You
As I am sitting here reflecting on the past week, I can't help but think we need a Mencken to help us see clearly.
One Mencken quote quickly came to mind:
"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it."
More and more Mencken seems relevant these days. Though I wouldn't want to associate myself with all of his views, and would stop well short of his searing indictment of democracy, and of American democracy in particular, his observations about the flaws of"the American people" resonate with me now as they never have in the past.
I don't think this is just because"the people" have seen fit to give Bush an eleven point lead over Kerry. If they favored Kerry for the same mindless reasons they favor Bush I'd be equally appalled.
Who can watch American politics and not feel ashamed these days? Ashamed of the candidates. Ashamed of the media. Ashamed of the people?
The candidates treat us with contempt, Bush oversimplifying the world, of course, and Kerry thinking we won't notice that in the space of six months he has embraced both the anti-war and pro-war positions.
The media seize every opportunity to sensationalize events, distracting us from the war in Iraq with stories about Kobe's sex life.
The voters meanwhile seem to earn the contempt with which the politicians hold them. Half won't vote. The half that do will probably base their vote on something as quirky as John Kerry's mien or Bush's macho stride.
I remain convinced that Americans are basically decent. Confronted with an ugly campaign tactic they'll be repulsed. But it's so easy these days to confuse them so they aren't sure what's ugly and what's not that it doesn't much matter that their hearts are in the right place. (Yes, I am thinking about the Swift Boat ads.)
So I return to Mencken, looking for guidance.
(And there's always Will Rogers:"If we ever pass out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone 'America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.'" I can think of things that are wrong with this statement. But it's like picking up on a ride on the highway. It may not be the best way to travel, but at least it's going in the right direction. )