George Washington Plunkitt was an American politician who was a member of Tammany Hall, a political organization in New York City. His memoirs, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, discuss his opinions on various topics in politics. In particular, a lot of the chapters reflect Plunkitt’s thoughts on how a politician should behave. Although there are some positive aspects of his attitudes and behaviors in politics, Plunkitt’s views are rather controversial and could be considered an example of political manipulation.
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In his discussion of honest graft, Plunkitt argues that politicians should use their knowledge about proposed construction or development initiatives to increase their fortune. For example, Plunkitt writes that it is an example of an honest graft when a politician receives confidential information about public improvements and buys land in the area to sell it to the public at a higher price. The author sees this behavior as merely taking an opportunity, but in the contemporary political context, most people would view it as an example of corruption and abuse of political power (Roberts).
However, it is also possible to view Plunkitt’s description from a different viewpoint. In his argument, the author encourages politicians to take opportunities that are offered to them. When considering this point in the context of political activism in general, it is rather benign and could help to strengthen the overall political landscape in America. For instance, it suggests that successful local politicians should seize opportunities to improve their influence and position in politics to have more impact. Hence, the principles of politicians’ behavior proposed by Plunkitt could be useful in some contexts.
Plunkitt also describes behaviors that a politician should use in order to obtain more votes. For example, he argues that politicians should “study human nature and act accordin’.” In context, this means forming connections with the electorate by finding out more about them and their needs. Plunkitt uses an example of offering young singers to join Tammany Hall’s Glee Club, thus winning their love and respect and encouraging followership behavior.
Here, Plunkitt’s strategy is patronage-based politics, which is widely criticized in contemporary democratic societies. Nevertheless, some suggest that the behaviors promoted by Plunkitt are not always bad and can be helpful in the modern political context. For example, Rauch mentions that patronage is the “grease” required for the political machine to work correctly. Thus, by gaining more followers through patronage, politicians can gain more influence and facilitate the adoption of helpful and fair politics.
Upon a closer examination of the text, it is also evident that Plunkitt urges politicians to be closer to their people and respect them, which is a useful notion. Today, politicians often focus on one group of people and exclude others, distance themselves from the people, and create unfair policies. Plunkitt’s text can be viewed as a critique of that because he argues for the idea of understanding and respecting each person. For instance, when Plunkitt discusses immigrants, he states, “the Irishman is grateful. His one thought is to serve the city which gave him a home”. Hence, Plunkitt’s work sets out good standards for politicians with regard to the treatment of people.
Overall, the ideas about the desirable politicians’ behavior presented by Plunkitt are often controversial and would not be received well in contemporary society. But the core principles behind these ideas are generally positive, and adhering to them would improve politicians’ actions and motivations. Thus, Plunkitt’s work is an essential read for political scholars and activists to understand the value of treating people with respect and seizing opportunities for development.
Plunkitt, George Washington. “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall.” Project Gutenberg. 2013. Web.
Rauch, Jonathan. “The Case for Corruption: Why Washington Needs More Honest Graft.” The Atlantic. 2014. Web.
Roberts, Sam. “Bribery and Corruption, or ‘Honest Graft’?” The New York Times. 2016. Web.