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Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2003

    corruption as a public good

    In history's rear view mirror, George Washington Plunkitt appears to be just another guy in a long line of corrupt politicians. There's no denying that he was corrupt, but as William Riordon recounts, Plunkitt honestly believed that he was not doing the public any harm. In fact, he believed that there was such a thing as honest graft, a sort of victimless crime. Certainly this was a self-serving philosophy, but there is a sincerity in his discourses that defies any trace of hypocrisy. His belief that Tammany Hall was a benevolent organization that served the poor and needy put a bemused smile on my face. After all, Plunkitt doesn't see or doesn't admit to seeing that the robbing of public funds through honest or dishonest graft is what contributed to the social problems, like unemployment, poverty and crime, which for the most part put the needy and poor in their predicament in the first place. But he absolves himself from his actions by his now-famous defense, 'I seen my opportunities and I took 'em.' And this is what makes Plunkitt such a congenial and magnetic man, what makes him so damned likeable. You KNOW he's a thief, you KNOW he contributed to the misery of thousands. Yet his playful, plain-speaking style, his candidness about his activities, his wit, and, at times, his goofiness, make him different from other Tammany leaders like Boss Tweed, say, or Charlie Murphy. He's more in line with Big Tim Sullivan or James J. Walker. George Washington Plunkitt was a charmer, no doubt about it. William Riordon was obviously under his spell. And the Johnson/Boswell comparison is very valid. It is difficult to maintain the utter contempt one should have for this thief. And yet... I would have loved to have had drunk with him at Hoffmann's bar and let him speak on for hours. Like Riordon, I think I would have been hypnotized too. NB--Peter Quinn's brilliant Introduction serves the book well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2009

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    Posted August 15, 2013

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