Commentary Magazine


From the American Scene: New Deal Wake: Boston, Massachusetts

Soon after nine o’clock on the evening of November 4 the American people in their millions became suddenly aware that the scepter was passing from hands that had held it for twenty years, and even on the heirs-apparent there descended something of a feeling of awe and of thoughtful surmise. As for the members of the immediate family, what thoughts came to them, as they huddled in little broken circles in front of the radio and realized that F.D.R.’s New Deal coalition had fallen apart? One of COMMENTARY’S short story writers, who has sent us fictional renderings of various communal situations in the Boston area, mailed this to us a few days after the landslide, piecing out some clues which she noted in the vicinity with the usual latitude permitted to the imaginative intuition. It is, accordingly, hardly necessary for us to mention that any resemblance between the characters depicted here and any real persons, living or dead, represents a coincidence for which neither the writer who wrote it nor this magazine is responsible.

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The young couple from Worcester walked down to the end of a corridor in the Boston Hotel Statler. Half a dozen Massachusetts Democrats high in the party sat and listened to the election returns. Bob Coles, explained beforehand as a rich Jew who was active in state politics, came out of the bathroom where he had been taking a shower. He greeted the couple, who had campaigned hard in Worcester, and who were friends of somebody, without really paying attention.

“Get you something?” he said.

Mr. Coles wore a double-breasted dark blue suit. You can’t be a Democratic “pol” unless you go double-breasted, it appeared, as everyone else wore a suit cut the same way, some dark blue, others in brown or dark checked material. Mr. Coles looked extremely neat, clean, and shaved. He was pale as he greeted the few people who came in. There must have been others, earlier, because used glasses and open bottles and melting ice stood around on tables. The evening already seemed old.

He went over to a briefcase and took out three bottles of V.O. Then he sat down on the sofa facing the small radio. It was about ten-thirty and a few scattered returns were coming in. Mr. Coles grew paler and said, “I tell you, it’s a landslide. You’re going to see such a fascist government in this country like you never heard of. It can’t happen here! I’m telling you!”

He seemed very distressed, and in a personal way. The other politicians were much more cheerful, and were already making jokes about their defeat. An Irish wake is often merry.

“It’s been a good twenty years,” they said to each other, jovially, but nobody was drinking. The V.O. stayed where it was. They all stared at the radio as though it were television. The television outfit stood at one side and nobody thought of turning it on.

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A pol named Johnny McBride entered, and the party greeted him, and he greeted the bewildered young couple from Worcester warmly, perhaps on principle, but he made it seem personal. He, too, was convinced of defeat, and, while philosophical about you can’t win all the time, still was bitter. He and Mr. Riordan, who was a Commissioner in charge of some branch of Highway Funds—a tall, stout, red-faced man in a tan double-breasted suit—were arguing with each other about some key state positions which they felt were already lost to the Democrats, too. Mr. McBride blamed it on the top local Democratic candidate, a man named Dineen. He knew him well, as he had been his aide for years, and was also on the State Council with him.

“That sonovabitch,” said McBride. “Pardon me, ladies. That sonovabitch, Dineen, I hope he goes down, too. They’re all going down, I tell you, so let him go with them. Oh, I’m goin down, too. What did Dineen ever do for the party? It was all for Dineen. What did he do for Stevenson in Massachusetts?”

Riordan said, “Dineen’s okay. He did plenty.”

“What?”

“He gave five thousand dollars, personally,” Riordan said.

“Who paid for Harry’s trip to Massachusetts?” McBride said.

“I did,” Bob Coles said, absently. “But Dineen kicked in two thousand. He’s not so bad.”

Riordan said contentiously, “What did Stevenson do for Dineen, if it comes to that? He came and put his arm around young Riley’s shoulders, sure, and turned his back on Dineen, right there on the platform.”

“Dineen’s a sonovabitch and I know,” McBride said.

The time went by, slowly. The hotel was very quiet. The returns came in. Bob Coles sat silent, and someone asked someone else, “How much is Bob out? Forty grand?”

Bob Coles answered for himself. He had pencil and paper in hand. “Around twenty-three so far,” he said, it seemed to be in personal wagers which he lost, state by 9tate. He sat near the telephone and as it rang, not very often, he answered it saying, “City morgue here.”

Mr. McBride, a member of the State Council, kept talking. He ordered a bottle of light rum and when it came, poured himself a drink. From time to time he took issue with the commentators announcing the returns. Otherwise, he kept up a running commentary—the stream-of-consciousness monologue that is one of the hallmarks of the true Irish pol.

“Listen, I’m going to get a son tonight,” he said. “I just left my wife up at Cardinal O’Connell House on my way in here. Adlai’s a hell of a name, but Ike McBride sounds worse.”

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An elderly man with rough white hair and dark eyes set in somewhat unevenly, looking tired and a little shabby, came in. He was a judge with an Armenian name.

“We had a great twenty years,” he said.

“Hell,” said McBride. “We thought it was Civil Service. I told them in Chicago. I told you then, too—” He directed this to Riordan, who had also been in Chicago. Riordan got up and poured himself some whiskey. “I said it wouldn’t work. How in hell can you run a man that don’t even want to run and says so, for Christ’s sake? Listen, this job, it ain’t being president of the Teamsters Union, you know. It ain’t being head of the Truckmens Local. What did Stevenson do? He stood on the Cardinal’s front doorstep where everybody could see him, and said he wouldn’t send an envoy to the Vatican. Right there, he lost the Catholics.”

“There goes Florida,” someone said. “Final returns.”

“Pensioners!” said Bob Coles.

“Even the Negroes didn’t vote for him,” McBride went on, in a lower voice, as he summed up the causes for defeat. “You take care of them. You feed them. They get fat. And they don’t even vote for you. They’ll find out!”

Nobody was sparing anybody’s sensibilities tonight. There was no care taken for your neighbor’s race, religion, or color, and it was very relaxing. The men here were mostly Irish or Jewish. They loathed Senator McCarthy, perhaps as a renegade, and they hated the Italians, some of whom were winning minor offices, and who were also Catholics. They called them by the old name of Wop.

“Let them Wops go back to their lousy pushcarts,” McBride said, with real bitterness now apparent in his voice. “Every pushcart on the streets had a lousy Republican sign on it today. Let them go back and get out the monkey and the tin cup. They’ll need it. Jesus!”

“Even the Wops were against us,” he said, when Rhode Island was lost.

At one point he interrupted himself. “I hear now’s the time to show class,” he said. “When you’re losing.”

Then he went on. “Who was there wasn’t against us? The Catholics, the Wops, the Negroes, the Republicans. Who did we have left, for Christ’s sake? The laundrymen! Call Chinatown and see how we’re doing there!”

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Again he turned to Riordan, whose face was slowly getting redder. “I told you in Chicago. This fellow wants to talk sense to the people, wants everything on a high plane, no crude pols like us. Wants them fellows that cuts their own hair. Okay. He’s got them.”

The young wife from Worcester couldn’t stand it any longer. “But who else was there?” she said.

McBride looked as though he didn’t understand the question. Then, with conscious restraint, he said, “Barkley. We’d have walked in with Barkley. It would have been a breeze. Love! You know anybody’s against love? Everybody wants a piece of it! Take down any history book off any library shelf—you ever hear of anybody being against a great lover? He could have toured the country and taken his peach with him, and we’d be in tonight.”

“There goes Illinois,” somebody said. “He isn’t even going to carry his own state!”

“Oh, my God!” said somebody.

“I like that Barkley,” Riordan said. “He was here, and I asked him what he’d have and he said, ‘Hell, I’m from Kentucky, what do you think I’ll have?’ and I filled his glass right to the top with Bourbon.”

More returns came in and McBride got up in disgust and said, “We lost New York, and Illinois. How’s the State Council doing? Did I even get in the phone booth?”

But things weren’t settled in Massachusetts yet. The Republican Senator should have been ahead, with the rest of his party, but Rilev, the Democrat, was still in the lead.

“His family spent plenty on his campaign,” somebody said. “All those tea parties. The Archbishop himself went out and campaigned for him, said to vote Riley. His old man’s built a couple Catholic hospitals already, and they say the Rilevs can’t spend the income, let alone the billions they have.”

Riordan got up and went to the phone. He called an old friend, a New York city pol, who was spending the evening at the Manhattan Club. “How’s it going?” he asked.

“Ask him what time the Mass is,” Bob Coles said.

The Judge sat, silent and thoughtful, his bristling gray beard rough over his heavy face. All these men were broad and solid and energetic, whether short or tall, the kind of men who can stay up all night, night after night, and work all day, stopping for a shower and a quick nap and a few drinks, and going right on. Old-time pols. They remembered everybody’s name.

“Dineen’s going down,” McBride said with satisfaction as some more scattered Massachusetts returns came in. “I’m glad, even if it means Carter. I hate that Carter, too. Hell, that man’s got a stoopéd back.” The young man from Worcester thought he meant stupid, but it was explained. “And you know why it’s stoopéd? From carrying kerosene to burn down Catholic churches! He’s been at it since infancy and he’s all bent over.”

He got up and, stooping and squatting, as though carrying a five-gallon can of kerosene in each hand, walked across the room.

“Burning down Catholic churches,” he said.

Even the Irish weren’t sticking together in this election. Things were breaking up. There were curses whenever Jenner or the Republican McCarthy was mentioned on the radio.

“Who didn’t he have with him, for Christ’s sake, excuse me?” McBride said passionately. “He didn’t have the low pols and the ward men going around putting up posters, like we always did before. No. He was going to campaign on a high level!” He drank some rum. “Who did he have? He had the laundrymen, and the stay-awayers, and the ADA-ers, and Stevenson’s vomiteers, that’s who he had, and that’s all.”

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Two hours had gone by, quietly. Someone turned on television and a commentator read from sheets of paper handed to him, but the results were the same as those that had been coming over the radio.

Bob Coles and the Judge got up, put on hats.

“Where to?” McBride asked.

“We’re going to take a walk up to the Times Herald office,” they said. “See how it looks up there.”

McBride seemed angry. “Sit down,” he said. “Stay away from there! That building ought to be taken down, brick by brick. People like you, names like yours, couldn’t even buy the Times Herald, let alone work for it, twenty years ago. Sit down.”

They sat down, dispiritedly.

“High-type men the General’s got,” somebody said, disgusted. “Nixon. Jenner. That McCarthy!”

“Riley’s still ahead,” somebody said, but nobody cheered up much.

“Hoover,” McBride said, in a thoughtful voice. “My old man used to work for a woolfinishing company, down around South Station.” He explained to the Worcester couple, “I’m one of ten, and my old man worked at this place and when Hoover came to Boston the men were told to go out and cheer. They wanted the Irish to stand around and cheer Hoover, for God’s sake, and they got sixty-five cents for supper and standing around two-three hours outside South Station, waiting for Hoover. My old man didn’t do it, and the next day, he was fired.”

A man over in the corner spoke up, nodding. “My old man was fired the same way,” he said.

Riordan continued cheerful, perhaps because, as one of his friends suggested, he had put away enough to take it easy for twenty years. “What did he leave?” McBride agreed. “Show me even the banister in any decent house in Boston with a morsel of dust left on it, once the likes of him get their bio foot in the door.” Riordan took this as a compliment, or seemed to.

He said, “Well, now we can loaf awhile. Four years from now, we’ll be back.” He reasoned, “Who heard of Stevenson, anyway? You buy soup, you buy Campbell’s, or some brand you never heard of? Everybody knew the General.”

“Did Mamie win for Ike?” somebody asked. “Was that love?”

McBride laughed at getting back his own words. “Maybe Ike started the rumor about how the gals all go for him himself,” he said. “I wouldn’t put it past him, at that. Christ, I told them, tie Stevenson up with some woman, even if it’s only a waitress at the Palmer House.”

Bob Coles was sitting by the radio, crying quietly. It was a personal matter with him, he wasn’t an Irish pol, his reactions differed from theirs.

“There goes New York,” McBride said. “I wonder did we carry East Derry, New Jersey?’“

Mr. Riordan walked down the hall with the quiet young couple from Worcester, who had to go and catch the last bus out of Park Square. He stood with them while they waited for the elevator.

“What kind of soup would you buy?” he asked.

“Riordan’s!” they responded, and he laughed and said, “Let them take the responsibility awhile. We’ll be (back in forty years!”

They assumed he meant four, but the elevator came and they never found out.

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Thursday morning, the young man from Worcester, reading the paper at breakfast, saw that Dineen had indeed gone down, and the man with the stoopéd back had won the key Democratic position in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. McBride himself had been one of the few Democrats to make the grade. He was still on the Council, elected by a large majority.

But there was a small news item, boxed, that made the young man call over to his wife.

“What do you think McBride named his son?” he asked. “He did get a son that night.”

He read the clipping to her:

Johnny Names Boy for Dineen

The baby boy who was born to Mrs. John McBride of South Boston while her husband was counting the votes that made him the only South Boston member of the State Council, will be named Joseph Luke and Party Leader Joseph Luke Dineen will serve as his godfather, Councillor McBride announced yesterday.

He thinks that, taking one thing with another, young Joseph Luke McBride will grow up to be a good Democrat.

“He could just as well have named him for the winner,” the young man remarked to his wife, but she looked as if she found politics bewildering.

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