The book Honest Graft gives us a glimpse into the mind of outspoken, early twentieth century politician George Washington Plunkitt and his views on the pressing issues of the time through his speeches. While few politicians would dare to air their personal observations in public, Plunkitt was blissfully unconcerned with the morally ambiguous nature of his unique opinions, which were delivered as sermons to the masses.
It would be reasonable to assert that there was no issue that Plunkitt felt more strongly about than the act of committing graft. In the book, Plunkitt discerns between two forms of graft: honest graft and dishonest graft. Both forms are illustrated with examples. Plunkitt claims to have never committed dishonest graft in his life but is reasonably proud of his achievements through honest graft on which he states, "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em". The acts which he associates with honest graft include: the usage of information about government developmental works and purchasing property vital to it to sell at a higher price, the sharing of said information with friends and the raising of government salaries.Whereas dishonest graft involved blackmailing criminals and the embezzlement of money from the city treasury. In my personal opinion, the act of graft cannot be justified under modern ethical or legal definitions as acts that Plunkitt considers honest would be considered highly illegal and immoral in modern society.
Plunkitt's position on alcohol consumption is unequivocal and uncomplicated, while he does not believe that liquor should be outlawed he is of the firm belief that politicians cannot e successful if they drink. According to Plunkit, "no matter how well you learn to play the political game, you won't make a lastin' success of it if you're a drinkin' man." (RIORDON, Chapter 19). He substantiates his assertion by giving the example of one of his lieutenants who was a highly capable individual that would require supervision during election time due to his drinking sprees. He further presents the examples of successful Tammany leaders and heads of department that tended to largely abstain from alcohol consumption.
Another issue which seems to incite Plunkitt's passions is the role of party bosses in the primary elections. Plunkitt felt that strong political leadership was required to conduct tumultuous events such as election primaries, without which government would descend into anarchy with various bodies and office bearers being at loggerheads with each other. He felt that this situation would be extremely detrimental to the interests of the city and presented the example of previous administrations without party bosses where: "the heads of departments were at odds all the time with each other, and the Mayor was at odds with the lot of them. They spent so much time in arguin' and makin' grandstand play, that the interests of the city were forgotten." (RIORDON, Chapter 20). He compares this with Tammanny administrations where party bosses were present and exercised control: "Then see how beautiful a Tammany city government runs, with a so-called boss directin' the whole shootin' match! The machinery moves so noiseless that you wouldn't think there was any. If there's any differences of opinion the Tammany leader settles them quietly and his orders go every time." (RIORDON, Chapter 20). Therefore, Plunkitt felt that the presence of party bosses was necessary, in order, to ensure the smooth operation of the political machinery.
The patriotism of Tammanny and its leaders left a deep and indelible mark on Plunkitt's psyche, causing him to proclaim "TAMMANY's the most patriotic organization on earth," (RIORDON, Chapter 17). He qualifies his statement by citing examples of the unwavering diligence with which they observe the 4th of July, Tammany's love of flags and its willingness to volunteer troops for war efforts, comparing Tamanny's behavior to that of rival organizations such as the Citizen's Union and the reformers whom he claims "run off to Newport or the Adirondacks to get out of the way of the noise and everything that reminds them of the glorious day." (RIORDON, Chapter 17). While one isn't given explicit reason to doubt Tamanny's patriotism or love of country, the rationale presented by Plunkitt seems rather superficial and has the potential to be perceived as tongue in cheek by many. Excluding their supposed commitment to war efforts, the majority of acts presented as evidence of patriotism seem artificial and rehearsed, rather than exhibiting any real devotion towards country.
Plunkitt's feelings about the reform movements of the mid to late 1800's and their attempted entry into the political culture were derisive and dismissive and considered their failure to be a direct result of the nature of individuals in these movements that were reformers and not politicians. Plunkitt considered politicians to be individuals that were involved in politics their entire lives and devoted the vast majority of their waking hours to learning the intricacies of the vocation "You have to give nearly all your time and attention to it. Of course, you may have some business or occupation on the side, but the great business of your life must be politics if you want to succeed in it." (RIORDON, Chapter 4). The inability of several reformers to absorb the political culture around them and to adapt and evolve was identified by Plunkitt as the primary reason why reformers were unable to have a lasting impact on politics and many prominent reformers of their times faded away into obscurity for this very reason, while individuals within these movements with political savvy managed to forge long and successful careers
Copyright (c) 2012 Morgan D
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