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The Superficial Aspect

To a sensitive mind there is something pathetic in the dogged resolution with which the cult of the Very Best Butter clings to its prime tenet in the face of mounting evidence that it is unsound. The very best butter was not good for the works of the March Hare's watch. That was the somber truth, but his romantic soul knew that there must be some other explanation. In 1952 our political romantics were told that a military man would not be good for the works, but they knew it couldn't be so, for he was the very best military man. Even today, although the works are definitely clogged, they know in their souls that there must be some other explanation and they go to extraordinary lengths to find it.

One of the most entertaining of their endeavors is that of Walter Lippmann in his column of June 17, in which he attributes the whole difficulty, not to the ineptitude of a soldier in a civilian job, but to the wrong-headedness of the electorate in voting Democratic in 1948. Mr. Lippmann told the voters not to do it, but they did anyhow, and that is why Eisenhower has lost in 18 months so much of what it took 20 years to acquire.

No, I can't follow his reasoning any more than you can.

Superficially, at least, it resembles emotion rather than reasoning. If the facts indicate that the hero is inadequate, then so much the worse for the facts. It simply cannot be, for to admit it would entail an admission that Truman and his outfit were, on the whole, more competent than Eisenhower and his outfit. That admission is a psychological impossibility, for it is an article of faith with the romantics that Eisenhower represents the Best People, while Truman represented the Lower Orders.

The suggestion that the Lower Orders can run the country better than the Best People is a heresy so appalling that it must be instantly rejected regardless of any facts that appear to support it.

Superficially it seems that for 20 years the Lower Orders did run the country better than Hoover had for the antecedent four, or Eisenhower for the subsequent year and a half; but this is bound to be an illusion, for if the Best People are hopelessly bungling rulers, why then we have the world turned upside down, which is an intolerable thought.

"Don't cheer, boys, the poor devils are dying," said the captain of the Texas as the Spanish ships went down at Santiago. Perhaps one should adapt his advice to the current situation—don't laugh, liberals, the poor devils are suffering. They did so desperately need a hero, and they were so sure they had found the perfect one—an illusion, by the way, that many of the Lower Orders shared for awhile—that the revelation that heroism, like patriotism, is not enough is horribly painful.

Yet while giggling should be sternly suppressed in this melancholy hour, sympathy should not go the length of countenancing the romantic delusion. After all, facts are stubborn things and there is no getting around two: the fact that within 18 months after the new Administration took over the United States has been deposed from leadership of the free nations, at least as far as Southeast Asia is concerned; and the fact that the Guatemalan affair has jarred our leadership even in the Western hemisphere, it took more than 20years and a great deal of labor to establish that leadership. If it has been lost in 18 months, then government by the Best People simply has not been equal to the tasks it faced.

If this strongly indicates reversion to reliance on the Lower Orders, I am afraid we cannot take even Mr. Lippmann's word for it that the reversion would be a mistake. Government is not a sporting event in which teamwork counts for everything. Government is a serious business in which discipline, sometimes pretty harsh discipline, is essential. The Lower Orders do have the merit of judging officials by results, not by their orthodox theories, nor by their social graces.

It is sad, but irrelevant, that this is painful to the romantics. It is to be feared, indeed, that a more painful question shapes up, which they must put to themselves next November. If we flourish under the leadership of one group, and pine under that of the other, who, then, are in fact the Best People? As they struggle with that, humanity dictates that we should look the other way.

This article originally ran in the July 5th, 1954, issue of the magazine.