How Boss Pelosi explains Modern American Politics

Our political leaders have resurrected America’s 19th Century political boss system in the 21st Century US Congress. Consequently, the most powerful person in Washington DC is Boss Pelosi, AKA US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

The idea of Pelosi as political boss is not new. Notably, author Rochelle Schweizer called her 2019 biography of Pelosi; She’s the Boss: The Disturbing Truth About Nancy Pelosi. Similarly, The Huffington Post calls Pelosi “the National Boss.” Meanwhile Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi writes “Who’s the boss? Nancy Pelosi She understands power and how to use it.”

Pelosi has become a feminist icon because of this hyperbole. However, there is a more sinister interpretation of Boss Pelosi. I believe Pelosi is an old-fashioned political boss who has taken over the United States House of Representatives.

The Boss System

A political boss is a professional politician who controls a political machine. A political machine is a group that runs a political institution such as a city or state legislature. Boss Pelosi, for example, controls the political machine that runs the US House of Representatives.

A boss controls political institutions through patronage. To elaborate, the boss dispenses money, favors, jobs, government contracts, and gifts to her followers. Pelosi, for example, rewards loyal Representatives with seats on important committees and campaign donations. Likewise, Pelosi punishes the disloyal by depriving them of positions and money.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, political bosses controlled many American cities, states, and regions. The old-time political bosses ruled through corruption and favors.

Tammany Hall’s Empire

For example, the most successful political machine in American history, New York’s Tammany Hall, survived from the 1790s to the 1950s by dispensing jobs and money. In the mid to late 19th Century, the boss; or Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall was the most powerful person in Manhattan politics.

Tammany leaders such as Boss Tweed, “Honest John” Kelly, and Richard Croker could appoint the Mayor and City Council of New York City (then Manhattan). The Tammany leaders used their political power to loot the city treasury and to allocate government resources to constituencies such as Irish and Italian immigrants.

Under Tammany elections were partially irrelevant because the bosses could determine the winners. Similarly to today’s bosses, Tammany’s leaders were the masters of cultural warfare. The Tammany leaders stirred up racial, class, ethnic, and religious hatreds.

In particular, Tammany mobilized Irish Catholics into a powerful political army that had the blessing of the Archbishop of New York, the nation’s most prominent Roman Catholic prelate. Irish Catholic thugs dominated the streets while working-class Irishmen formed the bulk of the voters.

Another facet of the boss system is an alliance with big business. Wall Street financed Tammany and its upstate Republican Rivals in New York, for example.

Jim Crow and Big Business

In the Jim Crow era, giant corporations such as the Southern Railway bankrolled the Democratic bosses who controlled the South’s state governments and state legislatures. The Southern bosses used race to divide the working class and keep the cash flowing in.

For example, the Bosses used Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise black and some white working-class voters. To justify the disenfranchisement, the bosses told working and middle-class whites they would lose everything if blacks gained and money or power.

The bosses could brand any reformer, a race traitor and a Yankee agent. A powerful attack in a region devastated by Union Armies in the Civil War.

Furthermore, the bosses destroyed the two-party system by portraying Republicans as pro-northern and pro-black. The Jim Crow Boss system survived into the 1960s by dominating Congress and blocking any Civil Rights legislation.

Like Tammany, the Jim Crow bosses were happy to resort to thuggery and terrorism. In particular, they encouraged lynching the murder of blacks and critics by racist mobs. Notably, in the 1920s and 1930s, the Jim Crow Senate used the Filibuster to kill anti-lynching legislation passed by both Republican and Democratic Houses of Representatives.

During the New Deal and World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York) handed the Jim Crow Democrats the key to the federal treasury. Predictably, the Jim Crow Caucus deprived blacks of many of the benefits of the New Deal, World War II military spending, and the GI Bill.

For example, Social Security did not cover domestic servants and agriculture, two disproportionately black segments of the labor force. Racist officials at the US Department of Agriculture kept federal loans from black farmers. Finally, redlining kept banks from issuing GI Bill mortgages to black veterans.

The Congressional Bosses

You can find today’s political bosses in the United States Capitol. For example, in the House you have Boss Pelosi controlling the Democrats and Boss Kevin McCarthy (R-California) controlling the Republicans. Similarly, in the US Senate you have Boss Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) running the Republicans and Boss Chuck Schumer (D-New York) running the Democrats.

Like the old-time bosses, the Congressional Bosses serve as a conduit between Big Business and the political machine. For example, McCarthy distributes corporate cash to House Republicans through the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Meanwhile, McConnell distributes corporate donations to Senate Republicans through the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) .

Like the old-time bosses, the Congressional Bosses serve as a conduit between Big Business and the political machine. For example, McCarthy distributes corporate cash to House Republicans through the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Meanwhile, McConnell distributes corporate donations to Senate Republicans through the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) .

Conversely, anybody who rocks the boat will have to do his or her own fundraising. Moreover, the bosses are in position to fund primary challenges to any member of their party who shows too much independence.

Notably, the only true independents in Congress are people such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) whose fundraising machines extend far behind their states. Interestingly, Ocasio-Cortez is now donating money to other Congressional Democrats’ campaigns.

Many voters hate the Congressional bosses, as their great-grand parents loathed the oldtime political bosses. Yet their power endures. Notably, Pelosi gave House Democrats permission to attack in her in campaign advertisements.

The Politics of Weakness

Another similarity between the Congressional Bosses and the historic bosses is to ensure the election of weak, incompetent, corrupt, and ineffective executives. In particular, Tammany Hall elected a long series of corrupt and weak nonentities as Mayor of New York.

Another similarity between the Congressional Bosses and the historic bosses is to ensure the election of weak, incompetent, corrupt, and ineffective executives. In particular, Tammany Hall elected a long series of corrupt and weak nonentities as Mayor of New York.

In a similar manner, Boss Pelosi and Boss McConnell back weak, incompetent, and corrupt presidential candidates to neuter the presidency.

Notably, one of Pelosi’s chief henchmen, US Representative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) dramatically endorsed Joe Biden’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Some pundits claim Clyburn’s action blocked Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vermont) insurgent presidential campaign from seizing the Democratic presidential nomination.

 Similarly, McConnell backs the useless Donald J. Trump (R-Florida). Even though McConnell despises Trump.

Pelosi and McConnell back Trump and Biden because both men are weak and incompetent. Moreover, Trump projects an illusion of strength to some consistencies which makes him doubly useful to McConnell.

Similarly, the Congressional Bosses try to hobble any strong or independent presidential candidate. Thus, Republicans sabotaged US Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 2016 campaign and Democrats moved heaven and earth to keep US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) away from the nomination in 2020.

How to Get Rid of the Congressional Bosses

The final similarity between the Congressional Bosses and historic political bosses is fear of reform.

Old-time bosses correctly saw reform; in particular the creation of a professional civil service, as a threat to their power. The bosses resisted such reforms as popular election of US Senators, secret ballots, primary elections, and efforts to get money out of politics.

Similarly, today there is little appetite for reform in Nancy Pelosi’s Washington. Even though a large movement for reform is developing in the nation. The old-time bosses’ reign outside the South ended with the triumph of the Progressive movement in the early 1900s.

There are reforms that could get rid of the Congressional boss system. Those reforms could include bans on corporate campaign donations, (a Progressive Era reform), public financing of campaigns, abolition of primary elections, proportional representation, and the creation of a professional support service for Congress.

Unfortunately, I cannot see such reforms becoming reality without a powerful political movement for them and a popular and effective leader such as President Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York). Roosevelt led the Progressives to victory because he was independent of the political system.

One thing I know, replacing the rule of Boss Pelosi with Boss Ocasio-Cortez; or Boss McConnell with Boss Rand Paul (R-Kentucky,) will not fix a thing. In the final analysis, the reign of Boss Pelosi and her successors will continue until the people reject it.