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Thompson forces, since they couldn't clash on the liquor question, jested about it. The hoi polloi after four years of feasting on enforcement manna, were ready to laugh. They ached to be led back to the fleshpots, to indulge themselves in a Roman holiday. Along came Thompson, the crowd wrangler, and the way was clear for a popular catharsis. He got out his bag of tricks and made merry. And every trick was grudge tickler. Big Bill took the cue and went after the grudges until the people, forgetting the great issues, rushed pell-mell after him like boys after a fire engine.
Since the fire of 1871, Chicago was never so aroused over a local matter. It is no small affair that stirs three million people with anxious interest and sends over a million to the polls. The other candidates and the other officers were but figments of sideshows. It was Thompson who stood out as the target or the standard bearer. He was both with equal grace, parading conspicuously in front of the battle. He brought the campaign down to a ballyhoo level where Dever could not compete. Dever and dignity in a frock-coat, appealing to the crowd, was no match for Thompson and the spangles. Yet Thompson by breeding and background was the aristocrat of the two.
Dever talked law and order but not dramatically like Thompson and the "boys." They would stop this frisking of hip pockets and mattresses, and the police would be out chasing crime. Dever talked economy and of the millions he was saving the city by the water meters. Chicago once pumped twice as much
water per capita as any city in the world. The plain people let the water run in summer to cool the milk, and in winter to keep the pipes from freezing. So much water was taken out of Lake Michigan that the St. Lawrence was being robbed of some of its volume. Waste water that would naturally flow into Lake Michigan was dumped into the Mississippi. Under protest from other lake cities and Canada, the War Department limited Chicago's water supply by installing meters. It was good economy but Thompson called it meddling. Chicago could run her own affairs. And what was more he would rip out every meter and give the widow her water.
Chicago is still chuckling over the King George issue. It was a good laugh getter among the Irish and Germans. No one had any fears about the King of England trying to run the City Hall but that didn't deter Big Bill from crusading on the issue. He made great sport about Chicago high-brows scrambling to hobnob with the Prince of Wales. They all knew that he was only fooling but that made it the more laughable. They laughed again two weeks after the election when the papers photographed Big Bill sipping tea with his old yachting friend, Sir Thomas Lipton.
The Democrats tried hard to raise the old school graft issue, but somehow they never got through Thompson's smoke screen. He talked "America First" and got the people so interested or kept them so amused, they forgot about the millions that had been filched. They listened to Thompson tell how the school administration had been demoralized
Behind Dever to guide the voters were two impressive committees including several hundred serious and public spirited citizens from every walk of life and from both parties. On these committees were outstanding editors, university men, preachers, rabbis, labor leaders, social workers, philanthropists, business men and club women. They spent a hundred thousand dollars on the best kind of political advertising. For instance, one member, known nationally for his philanthropies to negroes, spent no end of time and money trying to swing the colored vote to Dever, but the negroes went on calling Thompson the second Abraham Lincoln. He captured them with his boisterous equality and set them wild with joy when he stood before them with a negro child in his arms.
Thompson dubbed these the "Dever Decency Committees," and seized every opportunity to drub them publicly. From members of these committees as well as from other sources, personal attacks were launched against Thompson but he never lost his head; never failed to capitalize every attack. Two of his Two of his former supporters undertook to ex
pose him. They did, and it was a damaging attack. Chicago waited for Thompson to answer. He was not slow to take the opening. He appeared in a downtown theater with two rats in cages, calling them by the first names of the men who had turned against him. He spoke to one cage and then another, reminding each of good turns he had done. One he had saved from prison. The other he stood by and appointed to office when half of Chicago was condemning him. Calling the rats by name he asked how they could betray him. The papers called it low-brow stuff, stockyard tactics. But somehow the people felt nearer to Big Bill; it was an approach that they could understand and respond to. It was presenting himself to the people in this way that made Thompson so popular, and they went to the polls for him a half-million strong, for no other reason than that he was a real fellow, a regular guy. He stood by his friends.
If this is democracy in a great city, what does it mean? And what is becoming of popular government, anyway? Certainly this is not the kind of democracy visioned by Thomas Jefferson. Nor is it the kind that the political reform folks eulogize, yet they are the people most challenged by the extremes in the Chicago election. We have been told that bad government is due to a lack of popular interest. If we can get all the people out to vote, we will get good government. The assumption behind this is that along with citizenship goes a civic responsibility that all citizens naturally share. The good government people would
be unanimous in their opinion that Thompson's election was a slip back to the spoil's system. Yet in this election everybody came out to vote. Ninety-five per cent of the eligible voters registered, five out of seven voted and five out of nine cast ballots for Thompson; and all this against the best and most responsible advice that could be given the voters. The trouble may be with democracy. Town hall democracy is no more. It was a government of personal communication based on the fellowship of a neighborhood. In the great city the neighborhood has vanished so that only the form of democracy survives, inhabited by a different kind of fellowship, generally the gang. The gang steps in when democracy becomes impersonal, institutionalized, and when city life becomes complex and involved. It becomes a mystery to all but experts and politicians who make the manipulation of government a professional pursuit. It is called government by machine. That is essentially what has come to power with Thompson. His election is the triumph of the gang.
The gang is the antithesis of democracy. It is inclusive and face to face, every part an intimate and working part. The gang is tangible and comprehensive; democracy is an abstraction. The gang is controlled by personal contact; democracy by bureaus. Democracy is no respecter of persons; the gang is. The gang organizes around heroes; live, colorful, dramatic heroes; democracy organizes around ideals and its heroes are dead. The leader in the gang is boss, the beginning and the end of the gang. In democracy, the leader
is an incident. The gang leader is flesh of the flesh of the gang; but democracy cannot recognize the gang or such leadership. To whatever degree the gang survives in democracy, marks the extent that democracy has been devitalized.
The truth is that urban government cannot shake itself free from the gang, nor can any aspirant for office get anywhere without the aid of some sort of personal touch organization that in essence is a gang. The only difference between Thompson and Dever in this respect is that Thompson made no effort to deny that he stood by his friends. The people were not fooled. They knew that a vote for Thompson was a vote for Thompson and the "boys." The "boys" are outstanding popular local leaders in different parts of the city. They control votes and they bargain for patronage. Had Big Bill not been a candidate, they might have "delivered" to Dever. The election over, they began to move upon the City Hall to collect. For days and weeks they packed the corridors, the anterooms and the offices marked "private." They stood around chatting genially, smoking fat cigars, sitting on the desks until the City Hall had become the people's house of patronage. What we have here is a coalition of local leaders, all key people, all professional politicians and all rendering allegiance to some dominant individual-in this case, Thompson-who by their support, is kept in power. This support they render to their chief conspires to reinforce them in power in their smaller circles. To the good government people this is an abhorrent relationship, but noth
William Hale Thompson is essentially a realist in his political conceptions. He has the usual politician's love for plain people. He is humane, tolerant, the angel of the under dog, and jealous of the interests of his people. The foreign born trust him; they remember that during the war he did not succumb to the mania to persecute aliens. He soft-pedals justice for a friend in trouble. He is a friend of the boys. Ten years ago he was organizing boy gangs into social and athletic clubs. This year they fought for him at the polls. They say that Thompson believes in getting them young. He replies, “Yes, and I know of some very substantial institutions that believe the same way." To the people he is a sort of political bishop, never outraged at their shortcomings. He bears no grudges. Reform interests fight him. He smiles and carries on. He proves himself such a prince of good fellows that his constituents are proud to surrender to him their share in running the government. Now he reigns like a monarch in a conquered city. It is a purely emotional relationship, which is the basis of all mass movements. Thompson is in power because he has won the good-will of hundreds of such local bosses. He
is the wholesaler, they the retailers in a government built on friendship, and this friendship thrives on trades in patronage and favors.
This is democracy without the town hall stamp. The emotional element, however, is not new. It has been present in every urban democracy since the proletarian citizenry stampeded politics in Rome. Thompson wasn't playing a new game but he did play an old game so unusually well that the observers on the side-lines as well as his critics, were dazed. As a result he has been the butt of ignominy generally. Perhaps it would be well at this point to ask if it is the wave or Thompson riding the crest of the wave that ought to challenge our attention. He seems to fit the shell of town hall democracy better than democracy itself fits the changing and complex city. Democracy does not work that way in its rural setting where it has its base in property and where the voters are generally home owners. Thompson's great support came from the renting class or the young folks whose chief stake in government was personal liberty. They have little to lose and less to protect. They packed the tenements and cheap apartments on the back streets. They were the kind of votes that Thompson could get by romping on the high-brows who lived in the exclusive areas and the suburbs.
But these votes were also captured by the more objective evidences. They call Thompson a good fellow but they recognize him, too, as a builder. When fifty thousand people visit the Municipal Pier on Sunday, they remember that Thompson built it. When a hundred thousand
gather in the Stadium they think of him again. They credit him with the electrification of the Illinois Central and the whole Lake Shore development, with two boulevards and three street widenings. He moved the Water Street Market out of the Loop and built a double-deck drive along the River edge, thereby boosting property values tenfold. Not since Carter Harrison, the World's Fair mayor, has Chicago had such a building boom or such a boom in public improvements. They say that he built like the Cæsars of Rome and he promises to do so again. He would have difficulty at this stage to get out of it. He could hold his friends by no other means. They expect him to spend money, to let contracts and they know him well enough to feel that he is not going to forget them. There will probably be graft; there always is when a city lets contracts. If Dever's record is clear it is because he sat tight and held the purse strings. Thompson
throws everything wide open. His personal record, his accusers notwithstanding, is probably clear. Winning the election feeds his ego. He takes a boyish delight in playing with crowds and getting his picture taken. But more fundamental than that, he has a mania for building lasting monuments to William Hale Thompson. He likes to do big spectacular things. Note how he stepped in with a program for flood relief.
Whether his third term will be a menace or an asset to Chicago, remains to be seen. With him in charge and his lieutenants in the key positions, it could be either. Herein lies the great weakness of town hall democracy. It cannot protect itself against popular stampedes during election or gang control after. Is this a safe arrangement where there is so much at stake? Of course we wouldn't run a business on so insecure a basis; but what is the answer, more or less democracy?
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