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[Essay]

Bombast Bursting in Air

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We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

— Louis Brandeis

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

— The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, directed by John Ford

Between democracy and concentrated wealth the country throughout most of its history has preferred the latter to the former, the body politic asking only that the big money make a credible show of caring for something other than itself. For the past thirty-five years the modest requirement has been met with prolonged and costly stagings of a presidential-election campaign invariably said to be, as it was this past summer by Jeb Bush, “everybody’s test, and wide open — exactly as a contest for president should be.”

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Lewis H. Lapham, editor of Lapham’s Quarterly, is editor emeritus of Harper’s Magazine.

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