Politics – From Tammany Hall And Chicago’s 24th Ward to Wall Street Technocrats

Recent decades have been characterized by the invasive influence of an arrogant, autistic, and amoral class of late 20th century MBAs and similar members of the technocratic elite. This class junked sixty years of social democracy, helped wreck the economy, made every American worker a temp-in-waiting, carpet bombed the English language, trashed every moral concept in their way, and twisted reality so effectively they even convinced many that they were sex objects.

And they are everywhere. You will find them running schools and universities and managing once great museums. They talk mush, think mush, market mush, report mush, and defend mush. They attempt to make up in certitude what they lack in wisdom; they can’t tell the difference between a phrase and a product; and they create infantile and self-serving distortions of economic principles that they declare to be the only principles in life worth observing. They are, in the end, just so many more televangelists, but with themselves as God. Perhaps worst of all, they are without the capacity for shame. Like other sociopaths, they are remorseless.

The fraud, the huckster, the salesman are not new phenomena in America; what is new is that they now so strongly control every estate of our society. Those of a nature that would have once caused Americans to close the door, hang up, or say “no thank you,” now teach our children, run our government, and tell us what to think. They are the Enron generation, filled with postmodern version of Willy Loman: “He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’ s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.”

We have assigned a wealth of practical tasks to those who think in abstractions, speak in cliches, use paperwork as a pacifier, and convert morality, policies and human aspiration into a bunch of numbers or legal restrictions. Perhaps most sadly – and most dangerously – they have learned their values from sources far removed from the thinking of those philosophers, writers and politicians who gave America its greatest moments.. Sam Smith

What Sam fails to point out though, is why this is so. Especially these days.

Constantly we read and hear about how poor the main stream media is. That journalism is dead and all we get is talking points from Washington or Wall Street. All carefully edited. Where are the Walter Cronkites and Huntly and Brinkleys and Ed Morrows ? Well lets look at where they came from.  Uncle Walter started out as a newspaper reporter and the a radio announcer in Oklahoma City.  Edward R. Morrow started out in radio. Chet Huntley started out in radio.  David Brinkley started out writing for a local newspaper. Eric Sevareid started out writing for a local newspaper.  In other words the were good journalists because the had a lot of practice and honed their skills all their lives. The got to where they were because they were accomplished at what the did. Not because they went to some fancy school or were born into it or they knew somebody or they had a pretty face.

And this was the case in most occupations.   Having a good education was a plus but not the main determining factor for getting hired. Business wanted people who were experienced and knew their craft. If you had no experience, you generally started out near the bottom where you could get it and be trained.

And this was pretty much how you started out in politics as well. At the local level. When the party thought you were ready, then they would allow you to run for some state position if you wished.  Then federal. All the while getting the required experience and familiarity.

But this has changed. Business started wanting people with advance degrees and little experience and graduates began expecting to be hired that way and our higher education system began selling itself that way.  In the process we also started having professional politicians and lawyers and business executives mostly in government.  People that come from the same socio-economic group.  Nearly all making in excess of $100k a year.

How can someone even claim to represent the people when the only people the have had much contact with are those from the same economic strata ?  How can someone know what is best for their constituents and country when they have had little or no experience outside of the political arena ?  When all their knowledge has come from some Ivy League or other professors who have spent most of their lives cloistered in academia ?

Where as before you were more likely to have a more diverse representation from the community. Sure there was corruption but it was mostly on the local level. But they got things done for the people they represented.

The old machines were prejudiced, feudal and corrupt.

And so we eventually did away with them.

But reform breeds its own hubris and so few noticed that as we destroyed the evils of machine politics we also were breaking the links between politics and the individual, politics and community, politics and social life. We were beginning to segregate politics from ourselves.

George Washington Plunkitt would not have been surprised. Plunkitt was a leader of Tammany Hall and was, by the standards of our times and his, undeniably corrupt. As his Boswell, newspaperman William Riordon, noted: “In 1870 through a strange combination of circumstances, he held the places of Assemblyman, Alderman, Police Magistrate and County Supervisor and drew three salaries at once — a record unexampled in New York politics.”. Facing three bidders at a city auction of 250,000 paving stones, he offered each 10,000 to 20,000 stones free and having thus dispensed with competition bought the whole lot for $2.50.

Tammany Hall was founded in 1854; its golden age lasted until the three-term LaGuardia administration began in 1934. For only ten intervening years was Tammany out of office. We got rid of people like Plunkitt and machines like Tammany because we came to believe in something called good government. But in throwing out the machines we also tossed out a philosophy and an art of politics. It is as though, in seeking to destroy the Mafia, we had determined that family values and personal loyalty were somehow by association criminal as well.

Plunkitt was not only corrupt but a hardworking, perceptive and appealing politician who took care of his constituents, qualities one rarely find in any plurality of combinations in politics these days. Even our corrupt politicians aren’t what they used to be. Corruption once involved a complex, if feudal, set of quid pro quos; today our corrupt politicians rarely even tithe to the people.

Politics, Plunkitt said, “is as much a regular business as the grocery or the dry-goods or the drug business” and it was based on studying human nature. He claimed to know every person in his district, their likes and their dislikes:

. . . . . . . .
But most of all Plunkitt believed in taking care of his constituents. Nothing so dramatically illustrates this than a typical day for Plunkitt as recorded by Riordon:

“Plunkitt was aroused a two am to bail out a saloonkeeper who had been arrested for tax law violations. At six he was again awakened, this time by fire engines. Tammany leaders were expected to show up at fires to give aid and comfort.

“At 8:30 am he was getting six drunk constituents released. At nine he was in court on another case. At eleven, upon returning home, he found four voters seeking assistance. At three he went to the funeral of an Italian, followed by one for a Jew.

“At seven PM he had a district captains’ meeting. At eight he went to a church fair. At nine he was back at the party clubhouse listening to the complaints of a dozen pushcart peddlers. At 10:30 he went to a Jewish wedding, having “previously sent a handsome wedding present to the bride.” He finally got to bed at midnight.”

Concluded Riordon:

“By these means the Tammany district leader reaches out into the homes of his district, keeps watch not only on the men, but also on the women and children, knows their needs, their likes and dislikes, their troubles and their hopes, and places himself in a position to use his knowledge for the benefit of his organization and himself. Is it any wonder that scandals do not permanently disable Tammany and that it speedily recovers from what seems to be crushing defeat?”
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Sure, it was corrupt. But we don’t have much to be priggish about. The corruption of Watergate, Iran-Contra or the S&Ls fed no widows, found no jobs for the needy or, in the words of one Tammany leader, “grafted to the Republic” no newly arrived immigrants. At least Tammany’s brand of corruption got down to the streets. Manipulation of the voter and corruption describe both Tammany and contemporary politics. The big difference is that in the former the voter could with greater regularity count on something in return.

In fact, we didn’t really do away with machines, we just replaced them. As Tammany Hall and the Crump and the Hague and the Daley organizations faded, new political machines appeared. Prime among them was television but there were others such as the number-crunchers, policy pushers and lawyers running Washington, as well as a new breed of political professional, including campaign consultants, fundraisers and pollsters.

The curious, and ultimately destructive, quality of some of these new machines — particularly the media and the political pros — was that they had such little interest in policies or democracy; rather they were concerned with professional achievement or television ratings or making a buck. When one of the most skilled of the new pros, James Carville, was asked whether he would take a post in the Clinton administration, he admitted candidly that he only knew about winning elections; he didn’t know about governing. And his Clinton campaign side-kick Paul Begala once remarked, “Someone says issue; I say gesundheit.”

So we have replaced the political machines of the past – their leaders and those the felt would represent their constituents best – with highly educated technocrats and idealogs who are just as corrupt as the latter but totally unrepresentative of anyone except those in their own socio-economic class.

When you hear those in Washington today talk of supporting the Middle Class they never actually say who they think these people are.  But I would wager that if you asked any one of them including Obama, they would say that they are Middle Class.  In other words to them Middle Class means those who make in the 6 figure range. Not the majority of people who make closer to the middle 5 figures. So naturally their policy is geared towards those who they relate too the most. Who they have had and currently have the most contact with.  So how can Obama say he represents the majority of the people when his background consists mainly of people from the same socio-economic class ? When his contact with the real Middle America, is limited at best ?

The old political corruption gave us the the NYC Subway system among other things. Our current brand gives Wall Street Cart’ Blanche.

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