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Samizdata quote of the day

Now that the major party political conventions are over, H. L. Mencken’s assessment of “democracy” seem more prophetic than ever. “Democracy is the theory,” he wrote in 1916, that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Four years later, he foretold: “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. 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.” Looks like this could be the year.

Lawrence W. Reed

18 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • staghounds


    YOU get a bank to pay you a quarter of a million dollars for a speech.

    YOU build a skyscraper in New York and put your name on it.

    They might be a lot of other things, but they aren’t morons.

  • Pat

    I thought that happened already.

  • Michael Staab

    So, if this quote means what I take it to mean, but are we dealing with the lowest common denominator in both of these candidates? The experience thus far matches his statements.

  • Cal

    Hsve any of them not been morons?

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    I think Coolidge and Hoover were smart, and Reagan had some brains. And morons don’t get nick-named ‘Tricky’, a la Nixon. As for the rest…?

  • Rich Rostrom

    Wilson was president of an elite college. Eisenhower was a successful commander of an enormous army – a position he shot up into (he was a lieutenant colonel in 1941) because of his outstanding performance in various staff positions. Nixon financed his first political campaign with the money he won in poker games with fellow WW II Navy officers. Johnson had plenty of low cunning. Both Bushes were successful businessmen. Clinton was smart enough to graduate from Yale Law School, and Obama from Harvard, so neither was stupid.

    As to this year – the problem is not that either major candidate is stupid – it’s that both have bad characters. Clinton is the terminal state of leftist rot. Trump is a malign confluence of celebrity TV with right-wing populist anger.

  • Regional

    Here’s a critique of Hilliary Clinton.

  • Jacob

    Well, this is democracy. In the age of TV looks matter. Until recently it was the tallest candidate that usually won. Now looks alone is not enough any more. You need special gimmicks – like being black or being a woman or a clown.

  • Kevin B

    Then there’s the theory that the that the elite machine politicians who have subverted democracy have failed to produce the results that the demos tasked them with and said demos has noticed and is fighting back. Thus we have Trump, (and Nigel and Le Pen etc. etc.)

    Maybe the demos aren’t so stupid after all just busy with their lives. Maybe they don’t take a lot of notice until the elites stuff it up and then it’s bye bye Mr & Mrs Ceaucescu.

  • NickM

    If looks matter… The Donald is no George Clooney and The Hillary is hardly Sandra Bullock.

    Also since when did being black or a woman constitute being a gimmick? Or is the post open only to white males?

    I’m not saying The Donald is a complete moron but some of his spectacular shifts in position on oh so many things. I think it was five very distinct positions on abortion in three days. Not savvy. Oh, and look-up how much help he got from his Dad as far as the property empire.

  • Rob Fisher

    I’m not satisfied with the assessment that people are stupid. Supposedly stupid people voted for Brexit, George W Bush, Trump… Lefty comedians play that card all the time and it reeks of Guardian-reading middle-class smugness every time. And it doesn’t do them any good because they keep losing and being surprised and whining about it. Now, if The People were Truly Clever and that was what counted then we’d have a much smaller state. So I think it’s something else; some property of the game.

  • Paul Marks

    No political system – not democracy, not absolute monarchy (which can be overthrown by a revolt of a corrupted population), no political system, can really work if most people are NO GOOD. The same is true of rule by a group – rule by a group who respect the Rule of Law (even when it is against their own short term interests) may be an aristocracy – but too-often rule by a group degenerates into an oligarchy (people who do not understand the difference between an aristocracy and an oligarchy – should consult Aristotle on the matter). And no aristocracy can stand in the long term if the people (the ordinary people) do not support it.

    The supreme mistake of 19th century liberalism (at least of most 19th century liberals – there were dissenters) was that the moral level of the people could be maintained or improved by government schools or by government approved private schools (government approved teachers and government approved examinations – the J.S. Mill vision). This has proved to be the opposite of the truth – in reality government schools and the desire of private schools to “fit in” with establishment demands (to go to “good” universities and so on) has led to the CORRUPTION of the people, especially in the United States.

    As for Mencken – note he offers no solutions, he just sneers. He sneers very well – but it is still just sneering.

    Some of the Presidents that Mencken sneered at turned out to be very good – Warren Harding (the President Elect H.L. Mencken was sneering at in 1920) is the most underestimated (and smeared) President in American history, and Calvin Coolidge (whom Mencken also sneered at) was also a very good President.

    And the people?

    Yes they were corrupted – the vote in 1936 (for Franklin Roosevelt AFTER he had wiped his backside with the Constitution of the United States shows that) shows that – and the have become a lot more corrupted since then. In 1936 it was “just” political ideas that were wrong – in 2016 it is the culture itself that is corrupted, with basic things, such as the family, undermined.

    But what does Mencken suggest to deal with that?

    Essentially nothing – it is as if Mencken was a determinist who believed that most people (himself and associates excluded of course) could not be convinced to change their ways by rational argument, could not be convinced to make a CHOICE to do other than they do.

    In the end someone who believes that most ordinary people are incapable of finding moral truth (no matter what help they get) and, even if they did find moral truth, could not CHOOSE to follow it (against the desire to do evil) is part of the problem – not part of the solution.

  • Alex

    No matter who becomes president this year, the worst, most corrupt president in US history remains FDR.

  • Laird

    Alex, dishonorable mention has to go to Woodrow Wilson, too.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I sometimes fantasize about a Get Yours First party, running on a platform of “The government will take everyone’s money and spread it around. So join the Get Yours First party and Get Yours First!”

    The fantasy comes when I imagine our politicians trying to damn the GYF’s explicit platform without damning their own parties’ implicit ones.

  • Thailover

    Staghound asked

    It’s easier for simple people with good hearts to assume incompetency than to assume evil. And some truly good-hearted people have difficulty believing that evil even exists. It must be a mistake, they say, or it’s just maybe they need to feel loved and need hugs. I exaggerate only slightly. (Notice Obama’s apology tour when first elected).

    Trump doesn’t appear to be evil, but Nurse Ratched is.

    I’ve seen good.
    I’ve seen bad.
    I’ve seen evil.

    Hillary isn’t mislead or misunderstood. She doesn’t need a hug.
    Hillary is evil.

    Perhaps, like the fictional Shadow, it takes someone that’s not all that good to be able to recognize the smell of evil. Hillary reaks of it.

  • lucklucky

    So what makes Obama less amoron than Trump?

  • Julie near Chicago


    Mencken. Who has a reputation for shrewd brilliance because he was so very good at cynical and yes, sneering, one-liners. (And short paragraphs.)

    A certain amount of disgust with one’s fellows is surely warranted, but there is a lot more to humankind than imbecility and evil. And permanent dyspepsia is wearing on everybody.

    One wants to say, “Grow up!”