Saturday, December 13, 2008

Of political dogs and fleas

There are those who think Barack Obama is forever tainted because he rose to prominence in the corruption-ridden Democratic machine in Illinois, the same one that gave us Rod Blagojevich. Lie down with dogs, Obama's detractors say, get up with fleas. The man has to be thoroughly stained by his proximity to malversation and peculation (I had to look those up, too).

It would be useful for these people to recall Harry Truman and the Pendergast machine of Kansas City.

Tom Pendergast (1873-1945) was one of the most powerful Democratic overlords of any major American city, and one of the most corrupt. Harry Truman, whom Pendergast made a candidate for county judge in 1922, was his political creation.

In 1934 Pendergast handpicked Truman as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. In 1940 Truman nearly lost his seat when his opponent called him "the senator from Pendergast." When Franklin D. Roosevelt chose the Missourian for his vice president in the 1944 campaign, Republicans snickered.

Yet Truman never forsook Pendergast, even when the latter went to prison in 1939 for tax evasion. When the boss died in 1945, Truman -- the only elected official to do so -- attended his funeral and told the press, "He has always been my friend and I have always been his."

Today Harry Truman, who is often ranked by historians as one of the ten best presidents this country has had, is remembered for his flinty honesty and uprightness, for always trying to do the right thing and often succeeding.

Having climbed a web of corruption evidently taught him the political difference between right and wrong. Truman denned with dogs but rose without fleas.

Absent real evidence to the contrary, there's every reason to believe Obama has, too.


  1. Malversation and peculation? What in the name of God led you to use those words?

  2. As a college student I had to read a thick and impenetrable tome on English history, one of those you had to have a Webster's next to, and it included the phrase "Malversation and peculation were rife." That just stuck to my memory, like an annoying limpet.

    It means "Graft and corruption."

    By the way, a kind soul has pointed out that I spelled the Illinois governor's name "Blagojevic" instead of "Blagojevich." The former would be correct in the governor's ancestral Croatia, but not here in the U.S., where people tend to spell names the way they sound.

    Trouble is my Bosnian-born spinal surgeon's name is "Karakovic." That's properly pronounced "Karakovich," but the spelling drives most Yanks to say "Karakovick." That stuck to me, too.

    Ah . . . if you've got an ic, scrac it.

    The proper spelling of "Blagojevic" has been restored to the blogposts in question.

  3. I also should have said "ancestral Serbia." Some days I can't get anything right.