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Congress Literally Invented Bunk, So Of Course It's All In on UFOs.
As Donald Trump might say: Where's my H.L. Mencken?
Rep. Felix Walker (1753-1828), father of bunkum.
Menken! thou shouldst be living at this hour. H.L. Mencken was America’s poet laureate of hooey, or what he called “buncombe,” today typically spelled bunkum or shortened to “bunk” to spare the citizens of Buncombe County, North Carolina, the county seat of Asheville. On February 25, 1820, these constituents of one Rep. Felix Walker (pictured above), a Democratic-Republican nicknamed by his colleagues “Old Oil Jug” because he loved to hear himself talk, were subjected to a lengthy, noncommittal speech in the House of Representatives on the non-trivial question of whether Missouri should be admitted as a slave state or a free state. It was late in the day, it was a topic on which Walker did not wish to voice a clear opinion, and other House members groaned when Old Oil Jug rose to speak. “I shall not be speaking to the House,” Walker is reputed to have answered, “but to Buncombe.” Thus bunkum, or what today we call bullshit, was invented, along with the half-smoke and Go-Go music, right here in Washington, D.C. This first instance of bunkum, apparently, got Walker through the 1820 election, but he lost in 1822.
Mencken, whose heyday was exactly one century later, devolved into an anti-New Deal crank in the 1930s, and in the 1940s established himself, in diary entries and other writings to surface much later, as an anti-Semite and racist. Thus he was well past his 1920s prime when the first report of an alleged “flying saucer” surfaced near Mt. Rainier, Washington in 1947, spawning a wacky subculture that thrives to this day. That the Sage of Baltimore never gifted us with a cogent critique of UFO mania is an incalculable loss to American letters. For many years the traditional default position of rational humans held that anything fantastic and improbable that’s alleged to have happened should not be believed until persuasive evidence can be produced. But society now judges that stance unacceptably disrespectful and hopelessly passé, even in the halls of Congress. Or perhaps I should say especially in the halls of Congress. This is, after all, the institution that bequeathed buncombe to a grateful nation. That’s the topic of my latest New Republic column, “Why Washington Loves UFOs.”
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