Mob Rule: Part 28
Declaring independence while rewarding the patrons who put you in office is just part of an inherently duplicitous political process
By John Armstrong
We left the next morning for Philadelphia. Sydney and Bobby said it was important to kick the campaign off there, for symbolic reasons. It was a short flight. By time we were up in the air it was time to put the seatbelts back on and come down again.
The sign outside Independence Hall said “Closed: Private Function.” Inside the air was thick with smoke and voices, knots of men standing in groups waiting for the proceedings to begin and armed men guarding the doors and windows. Waiters circled the room like bees in a garden, making sure the glasses were kept full. I was kept backstage until it was time for my speech, Sydney and Bobby running over it with me line by line and making sure I knew where to wait for applause and which parts to hit hard on.
“What if they don’t applaud where you think they will? I just stand there?”
“They will,” Sydney said. “We’ve got men planted in the crowd to start the applause and cheering. The waiters will get them in an appreciative mood and they’ll be primed for you.”
Then it was time for my introduction, which was delivered by a local man I’d never met. I was to grow truly sick of it over the next two months but it held me rapt the first time I heard it. According to my new friend I was a national hero, just shy of sainthood but too humble to wear a halo. My own deeply held patriotism, belief in God and generally upstanding character had led me to renounce the Mob, at great danger to my own safety, and now I was going to drive the gangsters out, restore liberty and possibly chain Satan at the bottom of the sea, time permitting. By the time he was done building me up I thought I’d need to deliver my own speech seated on a white horse and waving a flaming sword to keep from disappointing people.
Sydney gave my tie a final tug, smoothed my lapels, and pushed me toward the podium. There was a big banner pinned to the wall behind it that read, Taking America BACK!
Fortunately the crowd was still stomping and cheering and I had time to take a quick drink and steady my nerves. I was jittery but I had my speech in front of me and I’d been drilled on it backward and forwards. By the time it was quiet enough for me to begin I had my nerves under control.
I have to say it was a hell of a speech. It was a little short on just how exactly I planned to do all the things I promised but there was going to be a chicken in every pot and a Cadillac in every garage, several of them. Granted, these men all had their ration of Cadillacs already, but it was taken as metaphor for good times and piles of money.
In fact, wealth, and more of it, was the overwhelming message. Oh, there was a lot of quoting from Jefferson and Tom Paine, and I made solemn note of the sanctity of “this very room where the founders of our nation conceived of government of the people, by the people and for the people, courageously pledging their lives, fortunes and scared honor” – in fact, we were on the second floor, and the declaration was drafted and signed downstairs in the assembly room – but the real meat of the speech was about how they had all been denied the pursuit of happiness – translation: a greater share of the pie – by the Bosses.
It was an outright appeal to avarice, swaddled in the stars and stripes. That part of it never changed much as I travelled down the campaign trail, but I did discover as we went along that everywhere I spoke had some claim to being the birthplace of independence.
In Illinois I invoked David Kennison, last surviving member of the Boston Tea party, who died in Chicago aged 115. In New Hampshire I called up the ghosts of the Green Mountain Boys and in Vermont I praised the first state to declare independence, six months before the Continental Congress; at no extra charge I threw in my admiration for them as the first state whose constitution outlawed slavery and extended the vote to all adult (male) citizens. I did leave out the fact they didn’t get around to actually joining the union itself until 20-some years after the War of Independence.
In Virginia I quoted Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” and in Maine – well, Maine was tougher; they were still part of Massachusetts during the war, but hate to be reminded of it. For them I dusted off Sam Houston, of Searsport – not the Texan at the Alamo – who crossed the Delaware with Washington and recalled how bravely they stood against the English attacking from Quebec.
Outside the 13 colonies it was a harder trick to pull off but we – or my ghostwriters – managed it. In California we honored their gallant stand against Mexico, “the same fighting spirit of Washington and the revolutionary patriots”, completely disregarding the fact we were stealing the territory, not the other way ‘round. (I don’t claim I knew all this beforehand. The Lineburger research team looked it up when tailoring the speeches, but it did inspire me to do a lot of reading about the country’s political history and I had little else to do between appearances. My education was in economics, gaming theory, and business management, not civics and history, but I had always enjoyed Father Antonius’ political science class and now I had a personal interest in learning more.)
Because of this, I was bothered by the way Sydney’s speechwriting team played fast and loose with historical facts but when I brought it up he told me, “Jack, there’s truth and then there’s Truth.” He made a sweeping hand gesture to accompany it; I swear, you tied his hands he’d have been struck mute. “When you’re dealing in Truth with a capital-T, ‘close’ is close enough. You think Franklin and Adams and the rest didn’t do and say anything they had to to sell their cause?”
I was bothered by the way Sydney’s speechwriting team played fast and loose with historical facts but when I brought it up he told me, “Jack, there’s truth and then there’s Truth.”
“‘Extremism in the cause of liberty is no vice’, huh?” I said, quoting one of the lines that always got cheers in “the stump speech.”
He slapped my back. “You got it, boychick. Watch Bobby buttonholing them after you’re done.” My uncle went to work the minute I finished my part, “working the room” as Stanley put it, coaxing firm commitments out of the attendees while they were still caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment.
“We warm them up with your introduction, then you whip them to fever pitch with the speech and when you’re done with them, they’re ripe for Bobby and he plucks them like chickens.
“Why do you think they pass the plate after the sermon and not before? It’s all about getting the crowd in a receptive mood. And if you have to hand out some cabinet appointments, it’s the cost of doing business.” He’d said to Bobby one late night, after they had finished going over their list of sewn-up “votes”, “we’re going to have so many cabinet secretaries they’ll all have to work part-time.”
I asked what he meant and he said, “In politics, if you want their money then they want a position in your administration, particularly one where they can make a nice bundle for themselves. It’s an investment. Right now we’ve got half-a-dozen Secretaries of Labor and Transportation, and I don’t know how many Secretaries of the Treasury. It’s all part of the process.”
“Won’t there be trouble when you pick one and the rest get nothing? You’re liable to get yourself shot.” Taking a man’s money and not delivering the goods was grounds for vendetta where I came from.
Sydney picked up a container of coffee, looked in it and grimaced, then set it back down. It probably had a butt in it. Sydney lived on Pall Malls and doused them absentmindedly in anything within reach.
“They pays their money and they takes their choice – and if someone pays more, that’s the way it goes. Politics is the game where the rules change while you play.”
After every speech, while Bobby was cutting deals, Sydney ferried me around the room doing the ‘meet and greet.’ As he steered me towards each target he whispered whatever pertinent information we had about them, what they did, their interests, and their kid’s and wives’ names. I commiserated with them about the local football and baseball teams, the price of wheat or oil, and always made sure to ask them what they thought about “the issues”, then stood there listening with great interest to whatever they said. I think that was the hardest part of the whole job. Nightly I was presented with firsthand evidence that the man on the street was full of crap.
But Sydney insisted on it. “The best way to flatter a man is to know his name, ask him what he thinks, and then act like he knows what he’s talking about, at least for the 10 minutes you’ll ever talk to him in this lifetime. It makes him feel better about himself, and he transfers that to you. You ever see a woman tell a man how smart and handsome and strong he is, and wind up with diamonds around her wrist, or on her finger? Same principle.”
I didn’t really like to dwell on that analogy overmuch. It seemed a little too much like whoring. Then again, most of the political process did, I was finding.
Mob Rule is a work of fiction, serialized exclusively in The Ex-Press. To read past instalments, click here.