They’ve been around since the era of the Roman republic. Even though the term boss is no longer in common usage, they can still be found in governments around the world. In simplest terms they are individuals who work to control a certain segment of citizens who are more often than not associated with a particular political party or a faction of a party. Some bosses do not hold office, but instead operate from the sidelines of the political arena. Others are indeed office holders.
Bosses do what is necessary to persuade followers that their best interests can and will be met by the boss. To do so, they try to show followers how bad their lives are, how they’re being treated unfairly, and how they’re not getting their share of the good life. Bosses generate anger about the past, hopelessness in the present, and fear about the future. They then make it clear that they can set all things right for followers.
The tools used by bosses to gain and maintain control are many. Chief among them is patronage, or giving something in return for loyalty to the boss. Political patronage comes in many forms. It could be a direct grant of money, goods, or services, or some level of personal or business protection. It could also be a job, or favorable treatment in a criminal or civil matter. And in most instances, it’s the promise of things to come that never materialize.
To loyal followers, a boss’s words become gospel. Once you’ve accepted anything from a boss, you’re indebted and you’re theirs. When they feel betrayed, crossed, or challenged, bosses often strike back. Through intimidation, character assassination, and threats, they work to punish and end disloyalty. They will lie with no regard for the truth, they’ll stoke fear by almost any means. It’s all about protecting themselves, their families, and their closest followers. They’ll do so at any cost. It becomes a system that propagates itself year after year and decade after decade. However, there have been some interesting exceptions.
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, a political boss set himself up in a small mid-western town. At first, he seemed like a benevolent guy out to do his bit to make the town in which he lived a better place. Because of some good that he did and the constant promises of more to come, he developed a following. Soon those followers hung on his every word. He ran for and won election as mayor. That’s when he shifted his machine into high gear.
It was no secret, at least to those who were not totally bamboozled by his empty promises, constant lies, and outrageously ridiculous stories, that it was all about him. The vast majority of patronage he doled out went to family members and his closest adherents. His business interests flourished, and his family prospered. Nevertheless, his followers defended him as the master of all that was good and the benefactor of all good that was to come.
For years his con worked. But then just after World War I there was a growing awareness that everything he did was self-serving. That reality, the absolute absurdity of accusations, claims, and charges he leveled at opponents, and his almost total disregard for the rule of law took a toll. Notwithstanding, there were still those who were so committed to the boss, or too ashamed to admit they had been snookered for so many years, that they were still a force that could sway an election. However, they were about to get a wakeup call.
The Roaring Twenties, witnessed an explosion in the number of cars on the road. Ford’s Model T and other motor cars of that era spawned the growth of motels, road-side restaurants, an ever-expanding system or roads, and billboards along those roads. The boss’s opponent for mayor decided to take advantage of one of them to make his point during the campaign in 1925. With no illustration other than a picture of the boss, he paid for a billboard along the main road running through town. It asked a single question.
How much longer will you watch him, his family, and his allies prosper through lies, absurd claims, false charges, and a total disrespect for the rule of law,while you and your family live within the law, waiting on promises that are never kept?
Vote Next Tuesday!
The boss and his cronies lost!
What you call something seldom changes what it really is. If it’s yellow, quacks, has a bill, and walks on webbed feet, it’s a duck. If it’s corrupt, seeks to control people, and will go to deceitful lengths to do so for personal benefit, it’s a boss.