President Obama’s election in 2008 was heralded as the start of a new American presidency. He was hyped as a man above partisanship, politics, and parochialism. His campaign promised a more enlightened perspective from a man whose life’s story crossed racial, cultural, and even continental borders. He was the novus homo of the American Presidency.
Except that he wasn’t. Most of my liberal Democrat friends are now waking up to face the reality that the man who was going to make it all better isn’t all that.
It turns out that President Obama is not the global man of the 21st century everyone made him out to be. To the contrary, the President comes to us from the 19th century. And his worldview isn’t that of a global citizen but rather of a party boss from the streets of Chicago.
I recently reread the political classic Plunkitt of Tammany Hall in preparation for a class I’m teaching this fall on campaigns and elections. If you haven’t read the short piece, it’s worth your time. It’s an expose of machine politics from the late 19th and early 20th century. The book is a series of interviews with the colorful George Washington Plunkitt, a political boss from New York’s famous Tammany Hall political machine. What makes the book colorful is Plunkitt’s candid views on politics, campaigning, and governing.
To give you a taste of what it’s like, I’ve stylized the following commentary as if Plunkitt were the current President of the United States.
On the IRS Scandal – “I didn’t tell nobody to give them Tea Party hayseeds no trouble. I says one day on TV that them right-wing boys were dangerous and somebody ought to do some looking. I got friends that are always listening as to how they can help out. That’s what friends is for. They did it on their own because friends look out for friends. They know I ain’t gonna forget their kindness either. Nobody’s going to jail for doing a friend an honest favor.”
On Immigration – “The American people didn’t send me to Washington to give college lectures. They want action. If Congress ain’t gonna do nothing, then I will. I got a pen and a phone and that’s all a man needs. That and some poor people who don’t forget whose looking out for em. That’s the way American works. I do something for them, and they do something for me. It ain’t dishonest. It’s democracy.”
On Presidential Power – “Some of my political opponents are always going on about me ignoring them other branches of government. They want to talk to me about the Constitution. I say if something has come between us, maybe we should figure out a way to move past it and come to an understanding. What’s the Constitution among friends?”
It turns out that “organizing” has a long tradition in the United States. And this was a guy, like a lot of other politicians before him, who was just an opportunist at heart. Just one more community organizer that seen his opportunities and took em.