If county party organizations exist – at least on paper – primarily to provide structure and thereby avoid the meaner influence of anarchy, they simultaneously protect their members from those crude formulations of toiling taxpayers who operate according to a measure close to morality and/or industry.
At their strongest, the layers of institutional protection contribute to near total inoculation from the cares and concerns of regular people, while supposedly preventing the entire system from capsizing into chaos, which regular people should, of course, appreciate; or, even better, be utterly unaware of as they cede, by virtue of indolence, indifference or, as is much of the time the case, through overwork, their democratic franchise.
In New Jersey, county party organizations have a particularly relevant and even expansive political history, going back to Frank Hague of Hudson County, whose machine helped catapult Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the White House. In Hague’s day, and not to be pollyannish about it, he extracted plenty, the boss secured specific political promises from FDR, like a worker and Irish immigrant-friendly policy agenda adapted from New Yorker Al Smith.
Today, the machines only inadvertently advance national-sized political careers, as they did in New Jersey with Atlantic City casino mogul Donald Trump, by giving him a place at the trough, or in this case at least a syringe-filled beach. They also have created more static space – and less responsibility – with their habit of relying on financial powerhouses such as Trump and the likes of retired Wall Street executives Jon Corzine and Phil Murphy, in exchange for a variation of Thorstein Veblen’s leisure class.
But it bears greater scrutiny…
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