Tag Archives: George Washington Plunkitt

What George Washington Plunkitt could teach Kelsey Grammer

So I watched the second season premiere of Boss the other night and it was pretty okay. I would have watched it even without Stinky Pete’s little talk-show tantrum over how those Hollywood libruls wouldn’t give him an Emmy nom because he’s a Republican, but maybe viewership for the Elephants’ Graveyard Channel (aka Starz) got a little bump from all the wingers flocking to show their support for yet another lone voice in the liberal wilderness. It gets so you can hardly tell these lone voices apart these days, but the Prospector did his pouting in front of Jay Leno, so he probably stood out a bit.

The biggest problem with Boss is that Kelsey Grammer seems to think doing drama means standing around looking like a man who desperately wants a high colonic and the Home Depot is fresh out of hoses. The fewer the facial expressions, the greater the gravitas — is that how you think it works, Stinky Pete? 

Let me introduce you to George Washington Plunkitt, a Tammany Hall operative whose observations on power and politics are gathered in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, a slender classic that ought to be on the shelf of anyone interested in political bosses — or, for that matter, playing one on TV:

I’ve been readin’ a book by Lincoln Steffens on The Shame of the Cities. Steffens means well but, like all reformers, he don’t know how to make distinctions. He can’t see no difference between honest graft and dishonest graft and, consequent, he gets things all mixed up. There’s the biggest kind of a difference between political looters and politicians who make a fortune out of politics by keepin’ their eyes wide open. The looter goes in for himself alone without considerin’ his organization or his city. The politician looks after his own interests, the organization’s interests, and the city’s interests all at the same time. See the distinction? For instance, I ain’t no looter. The looter hogs it. I never hogged. I made my pile in politics, but, at the same time, I served the organization and got more big improvements for New York City than any other livin’ man. And I never monkeyed with the penal code. The difference between a looter and a practical politician is the difference between the Philadelphia Republican gang and Tammany Hall. Steffens seems to thing they’re both about the same; but he’s all wrong. The Philadelphia crowd runs up against the penal code. Tammany don’t. The Philadelphians ain’t satisfied with robbin’ the bank of all its gold and paper money. They stay to pick up the nickels and pennies and the cop comes and nabs them. Tammany ain’t no such fool. Why, I remember, about fifteen or twenty years ago, a Republican superintendent of the Philadelphia almshouse stole the zinc roof off the buildin’ and sold it for junk. That was carryin’ things to excess.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! Plunkitt was a player in one of the most notorious political machines in history, but you finish Plunkitt of Tammany Hall convinced the guy didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was too busy making money (honest graft versus dishonest graft, look it up, Kelsey) and having a good time. Tom Kane is a boss with troubles. We get it. How about showing the most powerful man in the Windy City getting actually enjoying his power once in a while? Going everywhere in chauffered vehicles, giving people heart attacks every time you twitch an eyebrow — what’s not to enjoy?

I’m just throwing out a suggestion here. Because if the Friday premiere was as good as it’s gonna get, then Boss is as good as gone.

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