03 Nov 2017

A Word – Actually Quite a Few – About Curmudgeons


Warning! Salty language and ribald observations straight ahead…

The recent exercise in plumbing the depths of the popular press’s love affair with environmentalists, college snowflakes and the bands of assorted ne’er-do-wells populating the public consciousness causes the curmudgeon in the PolicySmith to surface with an emphatic Harumph!

The press’s love affair is not nearly as intense as one of the greatest love affairs of modern times – the Donald Trump love affair with Donald Trump – nor the close second of Barrack Obama’s enchantment with Barrack Obama.

From “beautiful tax returns” to “little Marco” to “big hands,” the Trump persona appears to be incapable of humility or restraint…his predecessor, no slacker in the self-adoration department, pronounced, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and “If you like your health plan you can keep your health plan” and “…the good thing about being President, I can do whatever I want.”

Here as always, the curmudgeon’s role is to deflate the inflated, the self-important and the over-hyped.  Call out the bloviators and dissemblers, issuing fair warning that the emperor’s new clothes leave him nekkid.  To quote George Santayana, “To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood.”

Notable among critic-curmudgeons of the day who find their way into print are John Kass of the Chicago Tribune and James Lileks, columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and National Review.

Commenting on the indictments issued by the Mueller operation, Kass wrote,

“The media reaction to the indictment of Paul Manafort…was just a bit predictable.  If you’ve ever watched bloodthirsty American adolescents play one of the more gruesome combat video games in your living room, you wouldn’t have been surprised.  With a howl of triumph the conquering avatar rips the living spine from the vanquished, holding the trophy aloft as proof of righteous victory.  And so, as Rachel Maddow smiled, you could almost see saliva dripping from her bicuspids.”

Lileks wrote about the Left’s impression of Trump voters,

“People on the Left sometimes think every Trump voter carries around a pillowcase and some scissors in case the Kluxers project a cross on the clouds with a searchlight signifying the long-awaited White Uprising…it makes the Left feel good about themselves to think this about Trump voters, but that’s nothing special; feeling good about themselves is the Left’s primary motivation…”

Politics and politicians have been easy, convenient targets for curmudgeon and non-curmudgeon alike.  A current sitting congressman, a western state conservative (and no curmudgeon}, told the PolicySmith, referring to former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, “You know, it’s not easy to find a stupid Jewish woman, but they (the Democrat National Committee) found one…and they put her in charge!”

Scathing observations about politicians and politics have long been a staple of the curmudgeon/commentariat – herewith some choice entries:

“The secret of the demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience so they think they are as smart as he is.”  Karl Kraus

“A politician is a person with whose politics you don’t agree, if you agree with him he is a statesman.”  David Lloyd George

“I once said cynically of a politician, ‘He’ll double cross that bridge when he comes to it’.”  Oscar Levant

“Politics is not the art of the possible.  It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”  John Kenneth Galbraith

“Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”  Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary

“Politician, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When we wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.”  Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary

“Conservative, n. a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a liberal who wishes to replace them with others.”  Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary (lead photo).

Now a close look at the great 19th century author/curmudgeon, Ambrose Bierce, a man who had every right to assume a jaundiced view of the world after being burdened with that name.  Not satisfied with conferring him alone with the AB, his parents went all the way with his siblings —Aurelia Bierce (Sister) · Amelia Bierce (Sister) · Arthur Bierce (Brother) · Almeda Bierce (Brother) · Augustus Bierce (Brother) · Ann Bierce (Sister) · Addison Bierce (Brother) · Andrew Bierce (Brother) · Abigail Bierce (Sister) · Albert Bierce (brother).  Whew!

Side note: Legendary curmudgeon Groucho Marx was introduced to a woman who had delivered 22 children.  She said rather sheepishly, “I love my husband.”   Groucho observed, “I love my cigar too, but I take it out once in awhile.”  He likely would have made a similar observation about the parents of the Bierce brood.

Ambrose Bierce cut a wide swath with his wry to cutting observations about the human condition and experience.  His Devil’s Dictionary contains elaborate definitions for many terms, but some of the most memorable are such cryptic entries as:

Bride: “a woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.”

Love: “a temporary insanity curable by marriage.”

Alone: “in bad company.”

An essay about curmudgeons would not be complete without a buffet of timeless quotes.  Herewith, some of the PolicySmith’s faves:

“…people moved to California so they could name their kids Rainbow or Mailbox, and purchase tubular Swedish furniture without getting laughed at.  Your ‘lifestyle’ is your ethic.  This means that in California you don’t really have to do anything except look healthy, think good thoughts and pat yourself on the back about what a good person you are.”  Ian Schoales

“Children should neither be seen nor heard from…ever again.:  WC Fields

“There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”  Albert Camus

“An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.”  Dylan Thomas

“My heart is as pure as the driven slush.”  Tallulah Bankhead

“I never vote for anyone, I always vote against.”  W.C. Fields

Fields statement is spot on today.  In Hillary vs. The Donald, one suspects more against votes were cast than for votes.  The election brought out the curmudgeon in the electorate, because people were paying attention.

The Trump annoyances and infernal irritants seemed (and seem!) to tumble forth daily, from the campaign forward, “I’m just thinking to myself right now, we should just cancel the election and just give it to Trump, right?” And, “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

These follow the rich legacy of his predecessor, “The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries.” And, “You’re likeable enough, Hillary.” Finally, “I’ve now been in 57 states — I think one left to go,” and, “It’s very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth- or sixth-most interesting person.”

Such narcissism validates David Broder’s observation, “Anybody who wants the Presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.”

This curmudgeon offers a simple – and original – observation – there is no politics without the pol and there is no twitter without the twit.

A final quote about politics – as relevant today as when Mark Twain famously stated, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, both for the same reason.”

One longs for the forthright, the simple and direct, a la Calvin Coolidge.  At a White House dinner President Coolidge was accosted by a socialite who said to him “I made a bet with a friend that I couldn’t get you to say two words.”  He turned to her and said, “You lose!”

2 Responses to A Word – Actually Quite a Few – About Curmudgeons
  1. Made my day! Thanks! I would join a Policy Works America email distribution list but, as Groucho has said: “I would not a member of a club that would have me as a member!”

    Please add me to the distro.

  2. Some years back you introduced me as ‘the old fart’ creative guy. I corrected you then and there by saying that I was ‘a curmudgeonly old’ creative fellow. Now I see I’m in really good company. I’m older, not wiser, and a lot saltier too. Thanks Jack, for your great website and as always, your super writing style.


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