H.L. Mencken on Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump and Herman Cain

The human mind constantly confuses things that bear the same name. Running a large city is a business and running a large wholesale house is a business, and therefore it is commonly assumed that a man who has shown capacity for the one enterprise must needs show capacity for the other. No doubt this is the idea at the bottom of mayor-elect Preston’s plan to set up a cabinet of commercial advisers. Once more Hopkins Place comes to the front. Another “business” administration is upon us.

As a matter of fact, the connection between running a large city and running a bank or a wholesale house is scarcely closer than that between preaching a sermon and performing upon the B clarinet. Municipal administration is not exclusively, nor even largely, a matter of buying and selling. It is a matter of handling men and enforcing laws. The typical wholesaler gets little or no experience in handling men. His employees are few in number and of an extremely docile sort. He doesn’t have to handle them: he merely bosses them. Let that business man now take charge of the Street-Cleaning Department, and at once he discovers the abysmal difference between a stock clerk and a precinct executive, a sheep and a boa constrictor.

Baltimore’s adventures with “business” administrations have been far from happy. It would be difficult to imagine an administration more thoroughly unsatisfactory than that of Mayor Hodges—and yet Hodges was Hopkins Place in its best bib and tucker. Robert C. Davidson also comes to mind—and Malster! Let it be recalled, too, that in Rasin’s palmy days he was always backed by a sturdy and self-satisfied Business Men’s Association. The worst foes of Wallis, Cowan and Venable were men of high rating in Bradstreet’s book.

But generalizations, of course, are always dangerous. Mahool, a business man, has made a good mayor—not a brilliant one, perhaps, but still a good one. It must be admitted, however, that Thomas G. Hayes was better one. And what was Hayes? A lawyer. Wallis was also a lawyer. So was Cowan. So was Venable. But they were also something else. That is to say, they were politicians as well—in brief, lawyers of political experience. The worst public servant imaginable is a lawyer-politician who is dishonest. The best imaginable is a lawyer-politician who is honest.

The trouble with the businessman is that he seldom understands the game. It was always easy for Rasin to hoodwink Hopkins Place. He and Gorman made Mr. Hodges look like a child. It is not that the businessman is a duffer at his own business, but that he is a duffer at the politicians’ business—which is as utterly unlike his own as the business of a chiropodist or a ship captain or a philologist.

Baltimore Evening Sun/May 10, 1911

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