Snippets 125. Meeting Presidents became something of a habit for travel writer Max O’Rell. In Jonathan and his Continent (1889), O’Rell describes meeting Stephen Grover Cleveland, the 22nd President in his first of two terms in office. Although it might seem very impressive to meet the President, O’Rell soon discovered that not everyone was impressed by the idea…
Good society keeps prudently aloof from politics and politicians. When a servant announces a politician, his master whispers in his ear: “John, lock up the plate, and take care there is nothing lying about.” John, faithful to orders, stands sentinel in the hall, and, while he is showing out the politician, keeps an eye on the umbrellas and overcoats.
For that matter, the American democracy is no exception to the rule. To become a chemist, you must study chemistry; to become a lawyer, you must study law; but, in a democracy, to be a politician you need only study your interests. Enlightened, educated, well-bred Americans have no desire to be confounded with the heroes of the Stump, and stand back; the rich financiers and merchants are too busy to take up politics ; the senators and congressmen are more or less the chosen of the common people, and good society says: “No, thank you; I prefer to stay at home.” Thus it is that the ground remains clear for the noisy mediocrities, and that a gentleman has only to mix himself up in politics to become a declasse. He must reach the White House to inspire a little respect. The American gentleman has not the least ambition to see his fair name dragged in the mud; to hear himself called “thief,” or nicknamed “ Honest John,” “Jolly Roger,” or what not. He takes a joke as well as another; but if you were to call him “ Senator ” or “ Congressman,” he would have you up for defamation of character. The President himself, capable and upright as he is, does not altogether escape the contempt which the politician inspires in the man of refinement.
When I was asked, in America, what celebrities I had met, I generally answered: “First of all, I have had the honour, of paying my respects to your President.” I invariably missed my effect.
“ Ah, really ! ” people would say — “ but, there, you are a foreigner.” This was an excuse, I suppose; for the Americans did not shut their doors upon me.
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