Without the bosses, it's a real sleeper


GEORGE BUSH may find slumber in the drug halcion, but I have discovered a sleeping pill with no risk of sudden side-effects during state dinners.

The other night I turned on a television debate between the dwindling contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Next thing I knew it was 7:30 in the morning.

This was the best night's sleep I've had since the State of the Union address.

Why in the age of politics by television -- bang bang watch quick bite cut short grab keep 'em awake TV -- do we always seem to end up with candidates who put us to sleep?

The answer may lie in the graves of those dull, dour,cigar-smoking kingmakers known over a century and a half of Democratic Party politics as "the bosses."

They were instinctive talent agents of greatness. When they left us, those generally unpersonable men took with them the knack for picking candidates of flair, wit and charm.

You will not see the bosses' credits roll very often. At the Kennedy Library in Washington, a wonderfully moving film depicts JFK as an independent candidate defying the bosses as he wins the Democratic nomination through the support of the people.

In reality, some of those people were bosses Charles Buckley of the Bronx, Peter Crotty of Buffalo, David Lawrence of Pennsylvania, John Bailey of Connecticut -- and Richard Daley (the elder) of Chicago, whose Election Day ballot-stuffing may have won the presidency for the charismatic young senator.

John Kennedy's predecessors as bearer of the Democratic standard, in their own styles just as magnetic and witty, were also the favorites of patron bosses: Adlai Stevenson, nurtured by Jake Arvey of Chicago; Harry Truman, reared by Tom Pendergast of Kansas City; Franklin D. Roosevelt, supported by New York bosses Ed Flynn and Jim Farley; and Al Smith, whose mentor was the brilliant Tammany Boss Charles Murphy.

But the Democratic bosses are long gone. The syndrome of primaries, ergo TV commercials, ergo big money and boring candidates put them out of business.

Backroom hunches were replaced by "scientific" polls. The nominating convention -- colorful, dramatic, suspenseful, even mythic -- has become a pre-packaged coronation.

Some would say it's the nature of the times. The bosses would never find exciting candidates in 1992.

I disagree. For starters, they would audition the country's best political orator and fastest q&a; artist, Mario Cuomo. Maybe he couldn't stage a Harry Truman-like upset, or govern as effectively as FDR. But he would put on a hell of a show.

With Cuomo bogged down in Albany, there must be at least a dozen other live wires around the country who can generate electricity without the faked spontaneity of television commercials. The bosses would know where to find them.

It won't happen, of course. The once-powerful Democratic Party that threw out the bosses has the nominating process it wanted and worked to achieve.

And it gives us candidates who put us to sleep.

Alfred Connable, author of "Tigers of Tammany," writes from Roslyn, N.Y.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad