Politician [pol-i-tish-uhn]: merchant of delusions.

Don Boudreaux’s post on the Café Hayek blog today links to his latest article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, titled “Mencken’s Timeless Insights.”  As Boudreaux explains, Mencken was “a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, literary critic and expert on what he called ‘the American language.'”  He was also a political commentator, and the Tribune article showcases some of his shrewd observations on the nature of the average politician, who “is a ‘merchant of delusions,’ a ‘pumper-up of popular fears and rages.'”  Boudreaux quotes Mencken:  

Politics, as hopeful men practice it in the world, consists mainly of the delusion that a change in form is a change in substance…[citizens’ blind trust in government results from] the survival into our enlightened age of a concept hatched in the black days of absolutism – the concept, to wit, that government is something that is superior to and quite distinct from all other human institutions – that it is, in essence, not a mere organization of ordinary men, like the Ku Klux Klan, the United States Steel Corporation or Columbia University, but a transcendental organism composed of aloof and impersonal powers, devoid wholly of self-interest and not to be measured by merely human standards.

Mencken’s critique is biting to the point of cynicism, or perhaps wisdom, and seems particularly apt as President Bush prepares to leave office and begins his pardoning of various offenses, withdrawing one reprieve after receiving bad press.  However, Obama is soon to be in the White House, many Americans are at least currently happy with the upcoming change in form, and Mencken’s poor opinion of all politicians will shortly be tested yet again. 

What do you think – can a politician be a true public servant, or are they inherently a different breed?

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