What the Editors Are Reading

Seeking relief from the midterm madness, I’ve been rereading H.L. Mencken’s political reportage and commentary, selections from which have been published in most Mencken anthologies.  Up to Franklin Roosevelt’s bid for a second presidential term, American politics was still enjoyable—bitter though many campaigns in the 19th century were, especially as the War Between the States approached.  Then, it was essentially a matter of personalities debating concrete political issues, not ideological and all-consuming, as it is today.  Mencken himself claimed that no more glorious spectacle was to be found on earth than an American presidential campaign; a claim he proved by his always stimulating and often hilarious reporting on these quadrennial events.  Reading his dispatches, in A Carnival of Buncombe and elsewhere, I’m impressed by how far the craft of political journalism has become degraded over the last half-century, in direct parallel with the practice of politics.

Mencken wrote superbly—incomparably better than any newspaperman I can think of today.  Indeed, he was one of the greatest literary stylists writing in English in any era.  At bottom, he was a novelist writing in the guise and form of an essayist and nonfiction writer.  The fact—apparent in nearly everything he ever wrote, from his book-length meditation on the gods to his book reviews...

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