Politics From Within

Stephen Leacock December 1 1917

Politics From Within

Stephen Leacock December 1 1917

Politics From Within

Stephen Leacock

Author of “Further Foolishness," “Nonsense Novels,” etc.

TO avoid all error as to the point of view, let me say in commencing that I am a Liberal-Conservative, or, if you will, a Conservative-Liberal with a strong dash of sympathy with the socialist idea, a friend of labor, and a believer in progressive radicalism. I do not desire office but would take a seat in the Senate at five minutes’ notice. ,

I believe there are ever so many people of exactly this way of thinking.

Let me say further that in writing of “politics” I am only dealing with the lights and shadows that flicker over the surface, and am not trying to discuss, still less to decry, the deep and vital issues that lie below.

Yet I will say that, vital though the issues may be below the surface, there is more clap-trap, insincerity, and humbug on the surface of politics than over any equal area on the face of any institution.

The candidate, as such, is a humbug The voters, as voters—not as fathers, brothers or sons — are humbugs. The

committees are humbugs. And the speeches, to the extent of about ninety per cent., are pure buncombe. But, oddly enough, out of the silly babel of talk that accompanies popular government, we get, after all, pretty good government—infinitely better than the government of an autocratic king. Between democracy and kingship lies all the difference between genial humbug and black sin.

FOR the candidate for popular office I have nothing but sympathy and sorrow. It has been my fortune to walk round at the heels of half a dozen of them in different little Canadian tow’ns, watching the candidate try in vain to brighten up his face at the glad sight of a party

One, in particular, I remember. Nature had meant him to be a sour man, a hard man, a man with but little joy in the company of his fellows. Fate had made him a candidate for the House of Com-

mons. So he was doing his best to belie his nature.

“Hullo, William!” he would call out as a man passed driving a horse and buggy. “Got the little sorrel out for a spin, eh?”

Then he would turn to me and say in a low rasping voice:

“There goes about the biggest skunk in this whole constituency.”

A few minutes later he would wave his hand over a little hedge in friendly salutation to a man working in a garden.

“Hullo, Jasper! That’s a fine lot of corn you’ve got there.”

Jasper would reply in a growl. And when we were well past the house the candidate would say between his teeth:

“That’s about the meanest whelp in the riding.”

Our conversation all down the street was of that pattern.

“Good morning, Edward! Giving the potatoes a dose of Paris green, eh?”

And in an undertone :

“I wish to Heaven he’d take a dose of it himself.”

And so on from house to house.

T COUNTED up, from one end of the street to the other, that there were living in it seven skunks, fourteen low whelps, eight mean hounds and two dirty skin-flints. And all of these merely among the Conservative voters. It made me wish to be a Liberal. Especially as the Liberal voters, by the law of the perversity of human affairs, always seemed to be the finer lot. As they were not voting for our candidate, they were able to meet him in a fair and friendly way, whereas William and Jasper and Edward and our “bunch” were always surly and hardly deigned to give more than a growl in answer to the candidate’s greeting without even looking up at him.

But a Liberal voter would stop him in the street and shake hands and say in a frank, cordial way:

“Mr. Grouch, I’m sorry indeed that I can’t vote for you, and I’d like to be able to wish you success, but, of course, you know I’m on the other side and always have been and can’t change now.”

Whereupon the candidate would say: “That’s all right, John. I don’t expect you to. I can respect a man’s convictions all right, I guess.”

So they would part excellent friends, the candidate saying as we moved off :

“That man, John Winter, is one of the straightest men in this whole county.”

“Now we’ll just go into this house for a minute. There’s a dirty pup in here that’s one of our supporters.”

MY opinion of our own supporters went lower every day, and my opinion of the Liberal voters higher, till it so happened that I went one day to an old friend of mine who was working on the Liberal side. I asked him how he liked it.

“Oh, well enough!” he said. “As a sort of game. But in this constituency you’ve got all the decent voters, our voters are the lowest bunch of skunks I ever struck.”

Just then a man passed in a buggy, and looked sourly at my friend the Liberal worker.

“Hullo, John!" he called, with a manufactured hilarity, “Got the mare out for a turn, eh?”

John grunted.

“There’s one of them,” said my friend, “the lowest pup in this country, John Winter.”

OME along,”

said the can didate to me one morning, “I want you to meet my committee.”

“You’ll find them,” he said confidingly, as we started down the street towards the committee rooms,

“an awful bunch of mutts.”

“Too bad,” I said. “What’s wrong with them?”

“Oh, I don’t know—they’re just a pack of simps. They don’t seem to have any punch in them. The one you’ll meet first is the chairman — he’s about the worst dub of the lot; I never saw a man with so little force in my life. He’s got no magnetism. That’s what’s wrong with him—-no magnetism.”

A few minutes later the candidate was introducing me to a roomful of heavy-looking committee men. Committee men in politics, I notice, have always a heavy bovine look. They are generally in a sort of daze, or doped from smoking free cigars.

“Now I want to introduce you first,” said the candidate, “to our chairman, Mr. Frog. Mr. Frog is our old battle-horse in this constituency. And this is our campaign secretary, Mr. Bughouse, and Mr. Dope, and Mr. Mudd, et cetera.”

Those may not have been their names.

It is merely what the names sounded like when one was looking into their faces.

The candidate introduced them all as battle-horses, battle-axes, battle-leaders, standard-bearers, flag-holders, and so forth. If he had introduced them as hatracks or cigar holders, it would have been nearer the mark.

F) RESENTLY the candidate went out *and I was left with the battle-axes.

“What do you think of our chances?” I asked.

The battle-axes shook their heads with dubious looks.

“Pretty raw deal,” said the chairman, “the Convention wishing him on us.” He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the departed candidate.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.

Mr. Frog shook his head again.

“No punch,” he said.

“None at all,” agreed all the battlehorses.

“I’ll tell you,” said the campaign secretary, Mr. Bughouse, a voluble man, with wandering eyes, “the trouble is he has no magnetism, no personal magnetism.”

“I see,” I said.

“Now, you take this man, Shortis, that the Liberals have got hold of,” continued Mr. Bughouse, “he’s full of magnetism. He appeals.”

All the other committee men nodded.

“That’s so,” they murmured, “magnetism. Our man hasn’t a damned ounce of it.”

“I met Shortis the other night in the street,” went on Mr. Bughouse, “and he said, ‘Come on up to my room in the hotel.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I can’t very well.’ ‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘You’re on the other side but what docs that matter?’ Well, we went up to his room, and there he had whiskey, and gin, and lager—everything. ‘Now,’ he says, ‘name your drink—what is it?’ There he was right in his room, breaking the law without caring a hang about it. Well, you know the voters like that kind of thing. It appeals to them.” “Well,” said another of the committee men—I think it was the one called Mr. Dope—-"I wouldn’t mind that so much. But the chief trouble about our man, is that he can’t speak.”

“He can’t?” I exclaimed.

All the committee shook their heads. “Not for sour apples!” asserted Mr. Dope positively. “Now, in this riding that won’t do. Our people here are used to first-class speaking. They expect it. I suppose there has been better speaking in this constituency than anywhere else in the whole Dominion. Not lately, perhaps; not in the last few elections. Rut I can remember, and so can some of the boys here, the election when Sir John A. spoke here, when the old Mackenzie government went out.”

He looked around at the circle. Several nodded.

“Remember it well,” assented Mr. Mudd, “as if it were yesterday.”

“Well, sir,” continued Mr. Dope, “I’ll never forget Sir John A. speaking here in the Odd Fellows’ Hall, eh?”

The committee men nodded and gurgled in corroboration.

“My! but we were plastered. I remember I was so pickled myself I could hardly escort Sir John up the steps of the platform. So were you, Mudd, do you remember?”

“I certainly was!” said Mr. Mudd proudly. Committee men, who would scorn to drink lager beer in 1917, take a great pride, I have observed, in having been “pickled” in 1878.

“Yes, sir,” continued Mr. Dope, “you certainly were pickled. I remember, just as well as anything, when they opened the doors and let the crowd in : all the boys had been bowling up and were pretty well soused. You never saw such a crowd. Old Dr. Greenway (boys, you remember the old Doc) was in the chair, and he was pretty well spiflicated. Well, sir, Sir John A. got up in that hall and made the finest, most moving speech I ever listened to. Do you remember when he called old Trelawney an ash-barrel? And when he made that appeal for a union of hearts and said that the sight of McGuire (the Liberal candidate) made him sick?

I tell you those were great days. You don’t get speaking like that now; and you don’t get audiences like that now either. Not the same calibre.”

All the committee shook their heads. “Well, anyway, boys,” said the chairman, as he lighted a fresh cigar, “tomorrow will decide, one way or the other. We’ve certainly worked hard enough”— here he passed the box of cigars round to the others—“I haven’t been in bed before two any night since the work started.” “Neither have I,” said another of the workers, “I was just saying to the wife when I got up this morning that I begin to feel as if I never wanted to see the sight of a card again,”

“Well, I don’t regret the work,” said the secretary, “st;t long as we carry the

riding. You see,” he added in explanation to me, “we’re up against a pretty hard proposition here. This riding really is Liberal; they’ve got the majority of voters though we have once or twice swung it Conservative. But whether we can carry it with a man like Grouch is hard to say. One thing is certain, boys, if he does carry it, he doesn’t owe it to himself.”

All the battle-horses agreed on this.

A litttle after that we dispersed.

A ND twenty-four hours later the vote was taken and to my intense surprise the riding was carried by Grouch, the Conservative candidate.

I say, to my surprise. But apparently not to anybody else’s.

For it appeared (this was in conver-

sations after the election) that Grouch was a man of extraordinary magnetism. He had, so they said, “punch.” Shortis, the Liberal, it seemed, lacked punch absolutely. Even his own supporters admitted that he had no personality whatever. Some wondered how he had the nerve to

But my own theory of how the election was carried is quite different.

I feel certain that all the Conservative voters despised their candidate so much that they voted Liberal. And all the Liberals voted Conservative.

That carried the riding.

Meantime Grouch left the constituency by the first train next day for Ottawa. Except for paying taxes on his house, he will not be back in it till they dissolve Parliament again.


The holiday season may be festive but it affords no excuse for indulgence. The individual who wilfully wastes limited resources is a sort of incipient traitor.

The world will never be made safe for democracy unless the women at home co-operate with, the men at the front. The housewife is the nation’s food administratrix.

It is not lack of thrift to buy expensive foods if by so doing you release more of the

IT s.taples >or the army. Use all the poultry you can afford instead of beef and pork.

Use bran, com and the coarser breads entirely during the festive season when richer foods are being eaten. The health of the family will be better and it will serve as a reminder of the country’s need to save wheat.

Learn the values of substitutes. An ordinary plate of oatmeal porridge with milk, contains as much nutriment as eight slices of bread half an inch thick from à two-pound loaf.

Reduce the sugar consumption of your household. We consume over one hundred pounds of sugar per person per annum. Our European Allies have placed their population on a ration of twenty-one to twenty-five pounds.

Use brown sugar, honey, molasses and com syrup in place of cane sugar.

Use every morsel where it will count in food value, where it is actually needed to sweeten. Do without cake icings and sweet desserts.

Children need more sugar than grown people. Save the larger portion for them.