Thursday, February 26, 2004

Henry and Al
I originally put the Al Smith link up for a laugh, and to poke a bit of fun at the rather anonymous nature of the Democratic field for the US Presidency. Recent turns in events - notably the attempts to add a “gays are second class citizens” amendment to the US constitution amid a general theocratic miasma amongst the Republicans – suddenly seem to make the whole thing more relevant.

Al Smith ran on the Democratic ticket against Herbert Hoover in 1928, the first Catholic to run for President in the US. This in itself set the Bible belt against him, and contributed to his eventual defeat, after the Southern States turned Republican (temporarily at that time). Smith was also widely regarded as anti-prohibition which further alienated Protestants against him. The 18th amendment was organised protestantism’s entry vehicle into US politics at that time, as opposition to gay marriage appears to be now, along with creationism, prayer in schools and so forth. The whole election presaged the culture war issues that the GOP seem intent on using to whip up fear of a Democratic presidency in 2004.

H L Mencken summed the whole thing up in his eve of election report:

“I daresay the extent of the bigotry portrayed in America, as it has been rvealed by the campaign, has astounded a great many Americans and perhaps made them doubt the testimony of their own eyes and ears…

…[The campaign] has brought bigotry out into the open and revealed its true proportions. It has shown that millions of Americans, far from being free and tolerant men, are the slaves of an ignorant, impudent and unconscionable clergy. It has dredged up theological ideas so preposterous that they would make an intelligent Zulu laugh and has brought proof that they are cherished by nearly half the whole population, and by at least four-fifths outside the cities. It has made it plain that this theology is not merely a harmless aberration of the misinformed…but the foundation of a peculiar way of life; bellicose, domineering, brutal and malignant…and it has shown that this compound of superstition and hatred has enough steam behind it to make one of the candidates for Presidency turn it upon his opponent – basely to be sure, but probably wisely.”

(from: On Politics – a Carnival of Buncombe)

I wonder if that last phrase will apply in 2004.