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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Wednesday, January 28, 2004  
An hour or two of idiotic whooping…

Mencken barside, 1933

My response to the cup o' joe offered by my wife this morning: Bring. It. On! A most useful phrase. But for full Jawn Kerry effect, it must be delivered as woodenly as possible.

At the New Republic site, a pair of Massachusetts journalists are conducting an online give-and-take on the Democratic front-runner under the headline, Bostonians Debate Kerry.

The magazine's Michael Crowley writes on the ambivalence with which many in the Bay State view Kerry, a prophet without honor in his own land, or at least among the local pols he has long ignored (but who nonetheless are now scrambling aboard his bandwagon):

If Tip O'Neill ever explained to Kerry his theory that all politics is local, Kerry showed no sign of absorbing it.

Several legislators explained to Globe columnist Eileen McNamara last month that they never felt they could call Kerry for help. "Why bother?" one asked. "You'd be lucky to have anyone on his staff call you back." Around class-conscious Boston, where blue-collar pols were already suspicious of his Brahmin upbringing, Kerry developed a reputation for fancying himself above the scrum of retail politics, and more preoccupied with his own future than with the state party. And he paid for it. When Kerry once arrived late for a gathering of state Democrats, one cracked from the podium that Kerry had gotten "stuck in front of a mirror."

* * *

Ornery Senator. Friendly Monster. (Via Cosmic Tribune)


* * *

Kerry the hockey player, then and now.

* * *

This Back in Time archive of vintage Time Magazine political reporting was once featured at the CNN All Politics site and still makes engrossing reading today.

From a July 1928 account of the Democratic convention:

The Nomination

(TIME, July 9, 1928) -- "Democratic Georgia covets the honor . . ." -- Representative Charles R. Crisp nominating Georgia's George.

"Indiana presents . . . a son of its pioneers . . ." -- William H. O.'Brien nominating Indiana's Woollen. (Mr. O'Brien's speech was 79 words long.)

"Some say we should nominate an outstanding Democrat -- the man we intend to propose is one of the most outstanding Democrats of the day . . ." -- George McGill nominating Kansas' Ayres.

"Tennessee does not offer the name of this great Democrat as a sectional candidate . . . . He is a national figure . . ." -- Harvey H. Hannah nominating Tennessee's Hull.

". . . The iron man of the nation's Democracy. . . . We are here for serious business. Our object is not to name a nominee, but to elect a President . . ." -- Charles M. Howell nominating Missouri's Reed.

On and on went the speeches, occupying the better part of two long sessions of the convention. Colorado's Thompson, Nebraska's Hitchcock, Ohio's Pomerene, Texas' Jones were also named. Seconding speeches were intermingled with nominating speeches, handsome speeches with fiery, witty with dull, empty with honest.

To a man from Mars, where it may be that flourishing compliments are unknown, the puzzling thing would have been that everyone in the hall knew what the outcome was to be. But to Democrats it was not puzzling at all. For once the party had its mind made up and before expressing itself was indulging in the luxury of idle speculation.

More than 24 hours after tall Franklin Delano Roosevelt had introduced New York's "happy warrior"; after Maryland's Ritchie, Kentucky's Barkley and Wyoming's Ross and several others had seconded him, with phrases ranging form "this sea of faces" to "a living, pulsating, understanding heart" -- the balloting began. Soon the name of Alfred Emanuel Smith belonged to the almanacs.

* * *

A retrospective on Mencken's political writing that ran during the last election campaign remains just as relevant to this one.

Thus emerged a host of scathing political observations, many of which ring true generations later. Take, for instance, his forecast for the proceedings of the 1924 Republican National Convention:

"Some dreadful mountebank in a long-tailed coat will open them with a windy speech; then another mountebank will repeat the same rubbish in other words. Then a half dozen windjammers will hymn good Cal (Coolidge) as a combination of Pericles, Frederick the Great, Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and John the Baptist; then there will be an hour or two of idiotic whooping, and then the boys will go home."

Were Mencken alive for this year's campaign, experts say, he would find more than enough material to keep busy.

Mencken's main target would likely have been the debasement of language in political rhetoric, a favorite subject dating back famously to Warren G. Harding's 1921 inaugural address, which he described as "the worst English that I have ever encountered.
"It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights," he wrote. "It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash. But I grow lyrical."

Mencken was not out to abolish democracy but to encourage the voter to ignore false pretense and choose his candidate "as he makes his selection between two heads of cabbage, or two evening papers, or two brands of chewing tobacco."

"Today, he chooses his rulers as he buys bootleg whiskey, never knowing precisely what he is getting, only certain that it is not what it pretends to be."


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