It’s time for the latest edition of “Say What?” Wednesday when I look at some controversial comments made by celebrities, politicians, and anyone else in the public eye. Some of these comments may be offensive but keep in mind that some of these were uttered when sensibilities and standards were different than today. Then again, some of these comments were nearly as offensive back when they were said. In either event, if you’re easily offended, steer clear.
Ever wonder what some government officials think about the everyday citizen? Let’s take a look at a quote from former Secretary of State Dean Acheson who didn’t hold anything back when he shared his thoughts on Congress and the people it represented. Acheson, who served as Harry Truman’s Secretary of State from 1949 to 1953 doesn’t appear to have been a big fan of the unwashed masses. Consider the following remark he once made to two associates in private (“private” being a subjective term):
You see, you all start with the premise that democracy is some good. I don’t think it’s worth a damn. I think Churchill is right, the only thing to be said for democracy is that there is nothing else that’s any better, and therefore he used to say, Tyranny tempered by assassination, but lots of assassination. People say, If the Congress were more representative of the people it would be better. I say the Congress is too damn representative. It’s just as stupid as the people are; just as uneducated, just as dumb, just as selfish. You know the Congress is a perfect example, and created to be a perfect example.
“Mean” Dean Acheson was by no means the first U.S. government official to take a dim view of democracy (and yes, I know the United States is supposedly a republic, but ask this question to political science scholars and you may be in for a long discussion) but his quote is a bit shocking considering he helped Truman during the early years of the Cold War. Acheson, a controversial figure during his time (he was seen as soft on Communism even as he counseled President Truman to pursue a policy of containing Communist expansion). Acheson became a trusted adviser by subsequent Presidents which speaks volumes to his worth as an intellectual in matters of state.
Acheson seems like a fan of the saying attributed to French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet aka Voltaire: “The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination.” Like more than a few sayings, there’s no evidence Voltaire ever wrote the statement, but it sounds like something he might have said and rare is the occasion when you can go wrong quoting Voltaire (with the exception of at the Vatican as Voltaire was a big critic of the Catholic Church).
Whatever the case, Acheson may not have been a fan of representative government, but he was a fan of the United States, helping to form the United States’ Cold War policy and deal with the growing menace from the Soviet Union and its pawns. Like Winston Churchill, he didn’t have much faith in democracy, but he knew it was better than fascism, communism, and any other authoritarian type of rulership.