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The Game Of Politics
by [?]


Ye who hold that the power of eloquence is a thing of the past and the orator an anachronism; who believe that the trend of political events and the results of parliamentary action are determined by committees in cold consultation and the machinations of programmes in holes and corners, consider the ascension of Bryan and be wise. A week before the convention of 1896 William J. Bryan had never heard of himself; upon his natural obscurity was superposed the opacity of a Congressional service that effaced him from the memory of even his faithful dog, and made him immune to dunning. Today he is pinnacled upon the summit of the tallest political distinction, gasping in the thin atmosphere of his unfamiliar environment and fitly astonished at the mischance. To the dizzy elevation of his candidacy he was hoisted out of the shadow by his own tongue, the longest and liveliest in Christendom. Had he held it–which he could not have done with both hands–there had been no Bryan. His creation was the unstudied act of his own larynx; it said, “Let there be Bryan,” and there was Bryan. Even in these degenerate days there is a hope for the orators when one can make himself a Presidential peril by merely waving the red flag in the cave of the winds and tormenting the circumjacence with a brandish of abundant hands.

To be quite honest, I do not entirely believe that Orator Bryan’s tongue had anything to do with it. I have long been convinced that personal persuasion is a matter of animal magnetism–what in its more obvious manifestation we now call hypnotism. At the back of the words and the postures, and independent of them, is that secret, mysterious power, addressing, not the ear, not the eye, nor, through them, the understanding, but through its matching quality in the auditor, captivating the will and enslaving it That is how persuasion is effected; the spoken words merely supply a pretext for surrender. They enable us to yield without loss of our self-esteem, in the delusion that we are conceding to reason what is really extorted by charm. The words are necessary, too, to point out what the orator wishes us to think, if we are not already apprised of it. When the nature of his power is better understood and frankly recognized, he can spare himself the toil of talking. The parliamentary debate of the future will probably be conducted in silence, and with only such gestures as go by the name of “passes.” The chairman will state the question before the House and the side, affirmative or negative, to be taken by the honorable member entitled to the floor. That gentleman will rise, train his compelling orbs upon the miscreants in opposition, execute a few passes and exhaust his alloted time in looking at them. He will then yield to an honorable member of dissenting views. The preponderance in magnetic power and hypnotic skill will be manifest in the voting. The advantages of the method are as plain as the nose on an elephant’s face. The “arena” will no longer “ring” with anybody’s “rousing speech,” to the irritating abridgment of the inalienable right to pursuit of sleep. Honorable members will lack provocation to hurl allegations and cuspidors. Pitchforking statesmen and tosspot reformers will be unable to play at pitch-and-toss with reputations not submitted for the performance. In short, the congenial asperities of debate will be so mitigated that the honorable member from Hades will retire permanently from the hauls of legislation.


“Public opinion,” says Buckle, “being the voice of the average man, is the voice of mediocrity.” Is it therefore so very wise and infallible a guide as to be accepted without other credentials than its name and fame? Ought we to follow its light and leading with no better assurance of the character of its authority than a count of noses of those following it already, and with no inquiry as to whether it has not on many former occasions let them and their several sets of predecessors into bogs of error and over precipices to “eternal mock?” Surely “the average man,” as every one knows him, is not very wise, not very learned, not very good; how is it that his views, of so intricate and difficult matters as those of which public opinion makes pronouncement through him are entitled to such respect? It seems to me that the average man, as I know him, is very much a fool, and something of a rogue as well. He has only a smattering of education, knows virtually nothing of political history, nor history of any kind, is incapable of logical, that is to say clear, thinking, is subject to the suasion of base and silly prejudices, and selfish beyond expression. That such a person’s opinions should be so obviously better than my own that I should accept them instead, and assist in enacting them into laws, appears to me most improbable. I may “bow to the will of the people” as gracefully as a defeated candidate, and for the same reason, namely, that I can not help myself; but to admit that I was wrong in my belief and flatter the power that subdues me–no, that I will not do. And if nobody would do so the average man would not be so very cock-sure of his infallibility and might sometimes consent to be counseled by his betters.