[Paleopsych] NYT: The Most Important Article in Our History

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The Most Important Article in Our History
New York Times, 4.9.5

[The current election is right up there with Garfield vs. Hancock in 1880. 
The plurality in the popular vote was just 7000. I repeat Mr. Mencken's 
observations on Harding vs. Cox below.]

IF the presidential election were Mae West, her reply to a
flatterer calling her the "most important election ever"
could easily be: "I bet you say that to all the elections,
big boy." Surprise, all you election 2004
superlative-pushers, from Bruce Springsteen to the
Christian Coalition: This election is the "most important"
in our history - our lifetimes, a generation, whatever -
only if you ignore a slew of others.

Here is a sampling of comments stretching back more than a
century and a half.

1864 Lincoln vs. McClellan

"We have had many important elections, but never one so
important as that now approaching."

Gen. James H. Lane,
pro-Lincoln campaigner,
The New York Times, March 31

1888 Harrison vs. Cleveland

"The Republic is approaching what is to be one of the most
important elections in its history."

New York Times editorial, July 2

1924 Coolidge vs. Davis

"I look upon the coming election as the most important in
the history of this country since the Civil War."

Joseph Levenson,
Republican leader,
The New York Times,
July 20

1976 Ford vs. Carter

"I think this election is one of the most vital in the
history of America."

President Ford,
debating Jimmy Carter, Oct. 22

1980 Carter vs. Reagan

The International Union of Electronic Workers said it felt
it was important to take a stand early because the critical
problems the nation faces may make the 1980 election "the
most important of this century."

Associated Press, Nov. 2, 1979

1984 Reagan vs. Mondale

"This is the most important election in this nation in 50

Ronald Reagan, Nov. 5

1988 Bush vs. Dukakis

"It may be the most important election of this century."

Senator Robert C. Byrd,
Democrat of West Virginia, Oct. 22

1992 Bush vs. Clinton

"I ask you to join with me for these last three days to
reach out and call your friends and family and neighbors to
tell them this is the most important election in a

Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Oct. 30

1996 Clinton vs. Dole

"This is the most critical election
in the long history of the American labor movement."

John Sweeney,
AFL-CIO president,
The Washington Post,
March 3

"It's the most important election of our lifetime."

Christian Coalition director,
The Tulsa World, April 14

"Talk about a bummer! Can you
imagine how the Republicans must feel at this, the
beginning of the most important election year in decades?
Pass the Prozac, please."

Robert Beckel,
Democratic political analyst;
commentary in The Denver
Post, Jan. 31

2000 Bush vs. Gore

"The first national election of the 21st century is the
most important election (so far) of the 21st century."

Ebony magazine, November

United States Representative
Zach Wamp said last week he believes "2000 historically is
the most important national election in my lifetime."

Chattanooga Free Press,
Nov. 22

2004 Bush vs. Kerry

"This is the fourth presidential election which Pearl Jam
has engaged in as a band, and we feel it's the most
important one of our lifetime."

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam,

"This is the
most important election I can remember, at least since

Al Franken, comedian,
Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 8

"Christian Coalition of
America believes this is the most important election in our
nation's history."

Press release, Aug. 24

"We share a belief that this is the most important election
of our lifetime."

Statement on Bruce Springsteen's
Web site on the Vote for Change tour

"My fellow
Americans, this is the most important election of our

Senator John Kerry
Democratic National Convention,
July 29

"For that
reason, ladies and gentlemen, the election of 2004 is one
of the most important, not just in our lives, but in our

Vice President Dick Cheney
Republican National Convention
on Wednesday

Larry King:
"Is this the most important election ever?"

President Bush: "For me it is."

"Larry King Live," Aug.



On Being an American

by H.L. Mencken  (from Prejudices, Third Series (1922))


All the while I have been forgetting the third of my
reasons for remaining so faithful a citizen of the
Federation, despite all the lascivious inducements from
expatriates to follow them beyond the seas, and all the
surly suggestions from patriots that I succumb. It is
the reason which grows out of my mediaeval but
unashamed taste for the bizarre and indelicate, my
congenital weakness for comedy of the grosser
varieties. The United States, to my eye, is
incomparably the greatest show on earth. It is a show
which avoids diligently all the kinds of clowning which
tire me most quickly -- for example, royal ceremonials,
the tedious hocus-pocus of haut politique, the taking
of politics seriously -- and lays chief stress upon the
kinds which delight me unceasingly -- for example, the
ribald combats of demagogues, the exquisitely ingenious
operations of master rogues, the pursuit of witches and
heretics, the desperate struggles of inferior men to
claw their way into Heaven. We have clowns in constant
practice among us who are as far above the clowns of
any other great state as a Jack Dempsey is above a
paralytic -- and not a few dozen or score of them, but
whole droves and herds. Human enterprises which, in all
other Christian countries, are resigned despairingly to
an incurable dullness -- things that seem devoid of
exhilirating amusement, by their very nature -- are
here lifted to such vast heights of buffoonery that
contemplating them strains the midriff almost to
breaking. I cite an example: the worship of God.
Everywhere else on earth it is carried on in a solemn
and dispiriting manner; in England, of course, the
bishops are obscene, but the average man seldom gets a
fair chance to laugh at them and enjoy them. Now come
home. Here we not only have bishops who are enormously
more obscene than even the most gifted of the English
bishops; we have also a huge force of lesser
specialists in ecclesiastical mountebankery -- tin-horn
Loyolas, Savonarolas and Xaviers of a hundred fantastic
rites, each performing untiringly and each full of a
grotesque and illimitable whimsicality. Every American
town, however small, has one of its own: a holy clerk
with so fine a talent for introducing the arts of jazz
into the salvation of the damned that his performance
takes on all the gaudiness of a four-ring circus, and
the bald announcement that he will raid Hell on such
and such a night is enough to empty all the town blind-
pigs and bordellos and pack his sanctuary to the doors.
And to aid him and inspire him there are travelling
experts to whom he stands in the relation of a wart to
the Matterhorn -- stupendous masters of theological
imbecility, contrivers of doctrines utterly
preposterous, heirs to the Joseph Smith, Mother Eddy
and John Alexander Dowie tradition -- Bryan, Sunday,
and their like. These are the eminences of the American
Sacred College. I delight in them. Their proceedings
make me a happier American.

Turn, now, to politics. Consider, for example, a
campaign for the Presidency. Would it be possible to
imagine anything more uproariously idiotic -- a
deafening, nerve-wracking battle to the death between
Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Harlequin and Sganarelle,
Gobbo and Dr. Cook -- the unspeakable, with fearful
snorts, gradually swallowing the inconceivable? I defy
any one to match it elsewhere on this earth. In other
lands, at worst, there are at least intelligible
issues, coherent ideas, salient personalities. Somebody
says something, and somebody replies. But what did
Harding say in 1920, and what did Cox reply? Who was
Harding, anyhow, and who was Cox? Here, having
perfected democracy, we lift the whole combat to
symbolism, to transcendentalism, to metaphysics. Here
we load a pair of palpably tin cannon with blank
cartridges charged with talcum power, and so let fly.
Here one may howl over the show without any uneasy
reminder that it is serious, and that some one may be
hurt. I hold that this elevation of politics to the
plane of undiluted comedy is peculiarly American, that
no-where else on this disreputable ball has the art of
the sham-battle been developed to such fineness...

... Here politics is purged of all menace, all sinister
quality, all genuine significance, and stuffed with
such gorgeous humors, such inordinate farce that one
comes to the end of a campaign with one's ribs loose,
and ready for "King Lear," or a hanging, or a course of
medical journals.

But feeling better for the laugh. Ridi si sapis, said
Martial. Mirth is necessary to wisdom, to comfort,
above all to happiness. Well, here is the land of
mirth, as Germany is the land of metaphysics and France
is the land of fornication. Here the buffoonery never
stops. What could be more delightful than the endless
struggle of the Puritan to make the joy of the minority
unlawful and impossible? The effort is itself a greater
joy to one standing on the side-lines than any or all
of the carnal joys it combats. Always, when I
contemplate an uplifter at his hopeless business, I
recall a scene in an old- time burlesque show,
witnessed for hire in my days as a dramatic critic. A
chorus girl executed a fall upon the stage, and Rudolph
Krausemeyer, the Swiss comdeian, rushed to her aid. As
he stooped painfully to succor her, Irving Rabinovitz,
the Zionist comedian, fetched him a fearful clout
across the cofferdam with a slap-stick. So the
uplifter, the soul-saver, the Americanizer, striving to
make the Republic fit for Y.M.C.A. secretaries. He is
the eternal American, ever moved by the best of
intentions, ever running a la Krausemeyer to the rescue
of virtue, and ever getting his pantaloons fanned by
the Devil. I am naturally sinful, and such spectacles
caress me. If the slap-stick were a sash-weight, the
show would be cruel, and I'd probably complain to the
Polizei. As it is, I know that the uplifter is not
really hurt, but simply shocked. The blow, in fact,
does him good, for it helps get him into Heaven, as
exegetes prove from Matthew v, 11: Hereux serez-vous,
lorsqu'on vous outragera, qu'on vous persecutera, and
so on. As for me, it makes me a more contented man, and
hence a better citizen. One man prefers the Republic
because it pays better wages than Bulgaria. Another
because it has laws to keep him sober and his daughter
chaste. Another because the Woolworth Building is
higher than the cathedral at Chartres. Another because,
living here, he can read the New York Evening Journal.
Another because there is a warrant out for him
somewhere else. Me, I like it because it amuses me to
my taste. I never get tired of the show. It is worth
every cent it costs.

That cost, it seems to me is very moderate. Taxes in
the United States are not actually high. I figure, for
example, that my private share of the expense of
maintaining the Hon. Mr. Harding in the White House
this year will work out to less than 80 cents. Try to
think of better sport for the money: in New York it has
been estimated that it costs $8 to get comfortably
tight, and $17.50, on an average, to pinch a girl's
arm. The United States Senate will cost me perhaps $11
for the year, but against that expense set the
subscription price of the Congressional Record, about
$15, which, as a journalist, I receive for nothing. For
$4 less than nothing I am thus entertained as Solomon
never was by his hooch dancers. Col. George Brinton
McClellan Harvey costs me but 25 cents a year; I get
Nicholas Murray Butler free. Finally, there is young
Teddy Roosevelt, the naval expert. Teddy costs me, as I
work it out, about 11 cents a year, or less than a cent
a month. More, he entertains me doubly for the money,
first as a naval expert, and secondly as a walking
attentat upon democracy, a devastating proof that there
is nothing, after all, in that superstition. We
Americans subscribe to the doctrine of human equality -
- and the Rooseveltii reduce it to an absurdity as
brilliantly as the sons of Veit Bach. Where is your
equal opportunity now? Here in this Eden of clowns,
with the highest rewards of clowning theoretically open
to every poor boy -- here in the very citadel of
democracy we found and cherish a clown dynasty!

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