Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Lesson in Political Speech from Sinclair Lewis

The following is a passage from Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry in which the Reverend Elmer Gantry contemplates the KKK and what stance to take on them publicly. With characteristic wit, Lewis gives the reader a picture of the vacuity of the vast majority of public discourse. Whoever can read the following without hearing the clear echos of our current political partisans either hasn't been paying attention (lucky them) or does not have "ears to hear."

The new Ku Klux Klan, an organization of the fathers, younger brothers, and employees of the men who had succeeded and became Rotarians, had just become a political difficulty. Many of the most worthy Methodist and Baptist clergymen supported it and were supported by it; and personally Elmer admired its principle--to keep all foreigners, Jews, Catholics, and negroes in their place, which was no place at all, and let the country be led by native Protestants, like Elmer Gantry.

But he perceived that in the cities there were prominent people, nice people, rich people, even among the Methodists and Baptists, who felt that a man could be a Jew and still an American citizen. It seemed to him more truly American, also a lot safer, to avoid the problem. So everywhere he took a message of reconciliation to the effect:

"Regarding religious, political, and social organizations, I defend the right of every man in our free America to organize with his fellows when and as he pleases, for any purpose he pleases, but I also defend the right of any other free American citizen to demand that such an organization shall not dictate his mode of thought or, so long as it be moral, his mode of conduct."

That pleased both the K. K. K. and the opponents of the K. K. K., and everybody admired Elmer's powers of thought.

[emphasis added]

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