An Honest Con Artist Essay

1544 words - 7 pages

In “Honest Graft Hall”, the words of George Washington Plunkitt are recorded so that the historical observer can directly observe the ideals of a very opinionated American Politician. Considered “the most thoroughly practical politician of the day” (Riordon , Preface), William Riordon records Plunkitt’s opinion on everything political from honest and dishonest graft to civil service issues. In this book, Plunkitt is able to show us how he has been so successful in politics for forty years and will continue to be. In this paper, I will be taking a look at his stance on several issues such as honest and dishonest graft, liquor and politics, political party bosses, patriotism, and civil service reformers.
At various times throughout the publication Plunkitt leads us to believe that he is only interested in what is good for the community and nothing else. He often mentions the well-educated man who flaunts his education in the political realm as if it were something that validates him being a politician. Even though men may have a good education, Plunkitt believes that education is merely one area of political relations and should not be used in every facet of politics as it may turn voters away from the party itself. He calls these types of people “fancy”. These guys are thought of as the “ornaments” of the organization and are good for special ceremonies, but not necessarily useful for directing city government. Plunkitt portrays his approach as more of a behind the scenes approach when it comes to actual politics and what it all entails. He is the one knocking on doors to get the vote, finding jobs for community members, buying wedding gifts and helping poor families buy their next meal. Despite his philanthropy though, there seems to be a question about his honesty. He is able to obtain a good bit of wealth by holding “four public offices in one year” (Riordon , Preface) while drawing a salary “from three of them at the same time” (Riordon , Preface). Nevertheless, he is also able to thrive in his own business outside of governmental boundaries. This in itself is of no regard, but his business conduct is of concern here. Plunkitt makes no effort to conceal the fact that he is often “tipped off” (Riordon , Chapter 1) about upcoming government projects. He is able to invest in the right land when given information about when the government plans to build next. He then buys the land at a cheaper rate in order to sell it to the government for a profit. Amusingly, he finds it quite enjoyable that the condemnation commissioners often wonder how he knew exactly what property to buy beforehand. Such speculation can ultimately lead to a claim of dishonest graft against him. In Plunkitt’s opinion, there is a clear distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. He defines honest graft as “politicians who make a fortune out of politics by keepin’ their eyes wide open” (Riordon , Chapter 7) for opportunities. These men tend to look out for the...

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