Truman by McCullough

I’m two-hundred pages into the biography of Harry Truman by David McCullough. My Darling B gave it to me for Christmas after I spent months trolling the aisles of every used book store in town, looking for it. Now that I have a copy, I notice that there are three on the shelves at Saint Vinnie’s that have been there for weeks. Isn’t that just the way?

I’ve just reached the point in the book where Harry – he lets me call him Harry – gets into politics, by way of the Kansas City political machine, run by the Pedergasts PeNdergasts. Is there anything today that compares to good old-fashioned politics?

The pattern of the organization followed the pattern established by law for election purposes. There was a ward leader, a precinct captain for each precinct, and a block leader for every square block within the precinct. The precinct captain was the first person who called on newcomers to the neighborhood, who saw that their water was connected, gas and electricity turned on. Coal in winter, food, clothing, and medical attention were all provided by the organization to whomever was in need at no charge.

When winter storms hit the city, trucks from the various Pendergast enterprises would arrive int he West Bottoms loaded with overcoats and other warm clothing to be handed out to the homeless, the drunken derelicts, to any and all who were suffering. At Christmas, Tom [Pendergast] gave out three thousand free dinners. Many people would remember for the rest of their lives how at the height of the deadly influenza epidemic in 1918-19 and at great personal risk Tom Pendergast had made a personal survey, house to house to see who needed help.

All that was expected in return was gratitude expressed at the pools on election day. And to most of his people this seemed little enough to ask and perfectly proper. Many, too, were happy to be “repeaters,” those who voted “early and often” on election day. The woman who worked in the hospital laundry, as an example, started as a repeater at age eighteen, three years shy of the voting age … she would vote at least four or five times before the day ended. “Oh, I knew it was illegal, but I certainly never thought it was wrong.”

Man, they sure knew how to rig an election back in the day.

3 thoughts on “Truman by McCullough

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s