Baltimore Evening Sun (20 March 1914): 6.
Every day another uplifter is caught with the goods, but nobody ain’t never got nothing on the Hon. Dan Loden.–Adv.
A DAILY THOUGHT. In moderation, wine, beer and spirits may be taken throughout a long life without impairing the general health.–Sir William Osler, Bart., M. D., LL. D.
First the Hon. Uplifter Ogden, and now the Hon. Uplifter Blair Lee! Certes, the estimable Sunpaper bit into a pair of acetic and xanthous citrons when it adopted the holy causes of these great apostles of the true, the good and the beautiful, and so helped them to their jobs. The moral is sad and plain enough. Have ye no truce with Uplift-Zad, the job-seeker who walks like an archangel. But the newspapers, alas, always forget it when a new savior of the plain people bounces into the ring. They have developed an extraordinary, almost a pathological capacity for believing in reformers. All a man has to do to get their enthusiastic support is to roll his eyes, whoop against the alleged “ring,” and carry a flask of Peruna in his hip pocket. This is the new and better way to break into public office; this is the way to succeed after years of failure. Take notice, ye aspiring young politicians! Yell like the devil for the pious futilities--and then vote with the machine.
It is very seldom that a professional reformer makes a creditable record in public office. (Did the Hon. C. J. Bonaparte shine as Attorney-General of the United States? Hast forgotten the Harvester Trust? The Tennessee Coal and Iron affair? The New York World episode?) Even assuming him to be perfectly sincere, which is a thumping assumption to make, he always displays vacillation and incompetence as a job-holder. His fine schemes won’t work in practice: he has to compromise with the eternal realities, the natural cussedness of man. (He himself is a man, for all his pewter wings.) And the moment he begins to compromise, that moment he throws away his whole excuse for existence and makes a mock of his virtuous frenzy. His right place, indeed, is in opposition. He is only useful when he is on the outside, looking in.
The same thing is true of a newspaper of uplifting tendencies. When the candidates it opposes are elected to office it can give excellent service to the public by keeping its spotlight upon them, and belaboring them for their sins and errors, and terrorizing them into a reasonable rectitude. But when its own candidates are elected, it finds itself under the unfortunate necessity of apologizing for them. The effect upon them is immediately disastrous: they begin to believe the mellow mush printed about them, and believing it, it makes fools of them. This explains why it is that a frank ringster, provided he be opposed by an alert press, always makes a better public official than a so-called reformer, with all the papers in favor of him. More specifically, it explains why the Hon. James H. Preston, for all his sins, is making a vastly better Mayor of Baltimore than the ex-Hon. J. Barry Mahool.
The Hon. Mr. Preston would probably deny it vigorously if he were on the stand, and with full faith in his own denial, but the fact remains that the “hostile” papers of which he talks so much have been been his best friends. They have put him on his mettle; they have filled him with a furious determination to prove that they are liars; best of all, they have given him a good excuse for refusing the more extravagant demands of his friends. The policy he now pursues is not the policy he started out with but a sort of compromise. That compromise, working contrary to its operation in the case of the reformer, has made him a better official than he set out to be. Meanwhile the public is the gainer, for in practical politics the truth and safety lie between the two extremes, as they do in all things. The Preston of the anti-Finney speech would have been an atrociously bad Mayor, but the ideal mayor of the Sunpaper’s dreams would have been even worse.
Nevertheless, we ought to cherish reformers, for, as I have said, they form a vigorous and useful opposition. Even when they are fanatical extremists they discharge a valuable function. On the one hand, they keep the public from acquiring any faith in job-holders, and on the other hand, they keep it from acquiring too much faith in reforms. The result is an increase of healthy public sentiment, a destruction of superstitions, an intelligent cynicism. Cynicism is constantly belabored by idealists and mountebanks, and with sound reason, for it works against their prosperity, but it is the habitual attitude of mind of all efficient and progressive people, as it is of all first-class individuals. An intelligent man is simply one who distrusts nine-tenths of the things that the majority of men believe--e. g., that Friday is an unlucky day, that quinine will cure colds, that women are romantic, that all men are born free and equal, that the common people are honest, that Hall Caine is a great novelist, that the Bible prohibits profanity, that one job-seeker differs from another.
All human progress consists in shedding delusions. It is not a matter of knowing more, but a matter of believing less. We know very little more about the law of gravitation today than Newton knew, but those of us who pretend to be civilized no longer believe that it can be suspended by a fat woman in black bombazine, sitting in a dimly lighted room. We do not know how to cure hydrophobia, at least with any surety, but we have ceased to believe that it can be cured with madstones. We may know vastly less about heavenly signs and portents than Macbeth, but we also believe less, and so we are the gainers. And by the same route a healthy cynicism, which is a healthy agnosticism, will one day set us free from many of the devils which still beset us. ----- The present belief in prohibition, the direct primary, the Montessori method and vice-crusading is just as much a superstition as the old belief in madstones, amulets and touching for the king’s evil, and for the same reason. That reason is that none or these things will work. If prohibition actually worked, a large number of intelligent men would probably be in favor of it, just as Dr. Welch would be heartily in favor of Peruna--if it actually cured Bright’s disease. But failing any such proof of merit, the thing is still believed in by men of the believing cast of mind–i. e., by men who are naturally superstitious. And these same men usually believe in all the other quack remedies, from the recall of judges to psychotherapy, and from liver pills to raffia work, with a firm faith in “honest” job-holders to make their credulity perfect.