Big City Machines and Liberal Voters:
Need We Throw the Bosses Out?
Three years ago, during the initial agitation over the Taft-Hartley Act, New York City’s Mayor William O’Dwyer proclaimed an official, city-wide day of protest against the measure. O’Dwyer’s action was without precedent in New York’s long history. He was denounced by conservatives and applauded by labor—with the fondness reserved for “one of our own.” Indeed, O’Dwyer could hardly have done more for the unions’ cause had he been a labor or socialist mayor on the European model. Instead, he was, of course, a Tammany man—the nominee of the oldest, and at times the most malodorous, political machine in America.
Politics, we know, makes for strange bedfellows. But the present spectacle of the bosses in the ward clubs on one pillow and the Washington Fair Deal planners on the other must have the respective ghosts of Boss Tweed and Morris Hillquit turning madly in their graves. Certainly the dethroning of the boss and the demolition of the big city machines has been for decades a primary aim of liberal politics. To the liberal, Tammany and its like were the symbol—and often the actuality—of everything reactionary, the chief road-block in the path of reform. “Throw the rascals out” was the rallying cry of virtuous and indignant progressives.
About the Author