I have been trying mightily to get six or more hours of sleep a night. Blast it all, sometimes I wake and can’t turn off my mind. 3 AM this morning was such a time.
I came upstairs to my empire of documents – my attic office – determined to organize some clutter when I was momentarily diverted by a row of history books. They were on a shelf I haven’t looked at for a couple years. My eyes landed on a book by Alfred Steinberg that got some press back when I was in college. From the inside cover I could see he had written 20 other histories. The one I opened is “The Bosses.” It’s about six corrupt, big city bosses of the 1930’s when Federal Government largesse gave them infinitely more power than they had formerly wielded.
I read the Introduction to get a taste. It struck me as being very timely. I originally bought the book twenty years ago or so because one of the six bosses it covers was my Dad’s old foil Tom Pendergast who ran Kansas City, Kansas. I even found a book mark in that section from a much earlier peek. I hadn’t gotten far. It was only about four pages into Pendergast’s 59 page section.
My Dad lived in Independence, Missouri, right next to Kansas City’s Pendergast machine. He was so appalled by its’ corruption – as a junior high school kid! – that he made up lists of reform minded candidates which he gave to his parents at election time. Coincidentally, Pendergast got his boy into the White House. That was Harry Truman who lived just a few blocks away from my Dad’s family and whose daughter, Margaret, attended my Dad’s school. Dad vaguely remembered an attempted kidnapping of the then Senator’s daughter that took place when he was in school.
I was almost chilled at the end of the Introduction by its last two paragraphs. They seemed almost prophetic. Mr. Steinberg wrote:
“The significance of the bosses of the twenties and thirties was that they collectively made the profession of democratic government and civil rights a hollow phrase in their time.
The broader meaning to future generations is that under given circumstances, such as disillusionment with national policies, the efficacy and justice of government, and the importance of the individual vote, local citizens may again by default abdicate their rights and responsibilities to the bosses with more permanent results next time.”
That’s what has been worrying me for the last three years and the principle motivation for writing a book about my Grandfather and what a real (honorable) American looks like.
Now I’m going to attend to a little of that organization I came up to my office to start. After the sun rises we will join our daughter’s family to decorate the church for Christmas and then use the tickets my son-in-law bought to attend the movie Wreck it Ralph II. That will take the edge of this moment of grim seriousness.