March 8, 2011
RE-READING ANOTHER 'STILL-RELEVANT' CLASSIC
Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities (1904) (Mineola, New York: Dover, 2004) ("But there is hope, not alone despair, in the commercialism of our politics. If our political leaders are to be always a lot of political merchants, they will supply any demand we may create. All we have to do is to establish a steady demand for good government. The bosses have us split up into parties. To him parties are nothing but means to his his corrupt ends. He 'bolts' his party, but we must not; the bribe-giver changes his party, from one election to another, from one county to another, from one city to another, but the honest voter must not. Why? Because if the honest voter cared no more for his party than the politician and the grafter then the honest vote would govern, and that would be bad--for graft. It is idiotic, this devotion to a machine that is used to take our sovereignty from us. If we would leave parties to the politicians, and would vote not for the party, not even for men, but for the city, and the State, and the nation, we should rule parties, and cities, and States, and nation. If we vote in mass on the more promising ticket or, if the two are equally bad, would throw out the party the other party that is in--then, I say, the commercial politician would feel a demand for good government and he would supply it. That process would take a generation or more to compete, for the politicians now really do not know what good government is. But it has taken as long to develop bad government and the politicians know what that is. If it would not 'go,' they would offer something else, and, if the demand were steady, they, being so commercial, would 'deliver the goods'." "But do the people want good government? Tammany says they don't. Are the people honest? Are the people better than Tammany? Are they better than the merchant and politician? Isn't our corrupt government, after all, representative?" Id. at 5-6. "Philadelphia had a bad ring mayor, a man who promoted the graft and caused scandal after scandal. The leaders there, the wisest of political grafter in this country, learned a great lesson from that. As one of them said to me: 'The American people don't mind grafting, but they hate scandals. They don't kick so much on a jiggered pubic contract for a boulevard, but they want the boulevard and no fuss and no dust. We want to give them that. We want to give them what they really want, a quiet Sabbath, safe streets, orderly nights, and homes secure. They let us have the police graft. But this mayor was a hog.. You see he had but one term and he could get his share only on what was made in his term, He not only took a hog's share off what was coming, but he wanted everything to cone in his term. So I'm down on grafting mayors and grafting office holders. I tell you it's good politics to have honest men in office. I mean men that are personally honest'." Id. at 213. Graft, but just don't create a scandal by doing it too quickly. Be subtle, be patient, spread one's grafting out over time. The people will not squawk, as long as you don't disturb their peace of mind and give them what they want.).