Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Boss Crump & a political homily

With the political season totally revved up, it seemed time to post my Boss Crump portfolio. I'm sure that unless you are my age (or even older), the old-time big city political machines are about as relevant to you as, say, the reign of the Sun King in France. Nothing today, very important in their own eras. In fact, with the exception of Daley II in Chicago, the press no longer talks about political machines. I suspect it's because today's reporters are a hair too dainty, not that machines are an extinct species. They exist to provide power for the leaders, jobs for the loyal troops, contracts for key backers and goodies for the faithful voters. Sound familiar?

In his day, E.H. Crump ruled Memphis, Tennessee, with an iron hand. He was important to both the national and state parties for one simple reason: a Democrat, Crump could deliver a plurality of sixty to seventy thousand votes for his candidates in any state race. Through a political arrangement with Republican organizations in east Tennessee he could obtain another 10,000 votes for his candidates. These figures are from a wonderful site all about big city political machines; give it a whirl to better understand our political past. You'll learn, for example, about just what it takes to "deliver" votes on election day.

Like many autocrats, Crump brought certain improvements to his home base; at this point, he's largely legend in Memphis, memorialized by public statues, highways bearing his name...

...and a forgotten sign that once graced the entrance to a now-demolished stadium .

My own experience watching a big city machine taught me a lesson that I have not seen discussed by reporter or by pundit. Namely, all politics are truly local. To the machine, national offices are candy tossed to ideologues to get them to the polls; local positions such as county clerk or recorder of deeds or mayor or district supervisor are the real meat and potatoes of an election. In 1948, Adlai Stevenson first ran for governor of Illinois; another much more liberal, reform-minded Chicagoan, Paul Douglas had wanted the governorship. But the machine bosses figured Douglas to be too dangerous to their local control and so he was shunted off to Washington as senator. Does this pattern sound familiar?

4 comments:

sheoflittlebrain said...

So interesting, GJ and tiely as well!!!!!

Granny J said...

welcom back, brain -- I look forward to hearing more from you in the days ahead. And, yes, blogging does involve a lot of time!

Anonymous said...

Ah, politics is like professional basketball...it's all "fixed" in advanced.

"They" just let us watch the game and feel like we're participants.

Sigh. I learned that lesson when I watched the Utah Jazz play a stupendous game against the Chicago Bulls some years ago. The Jazz were clearly better than the Bulls, but the refs .... well, you know.

Sigh. Time for me to go. Too sad to think about it. Whatever happened to "We the people...?"

~Anon in AV.

Granny J said...

anon av -- I fear that We the People are only too glad to accept freebies and take off our shoes at the airport in return.

 
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