- Historic Sites
The Fifty Biggest Changes In The Last Fifty Years
February/March 2004 | Volume 55, Issue 1
Franklin Roosevelt had Ed Flynn of the Bronx by his side. Harry Truman dealt with the Pendergasts of Missouri before he was in the White House. Those were prototypical political bosses, men who ruled over political machines that knew how to turn out the vote. But the bosses, who demanded nothing if not loyalty, have been replaced by consultants for hire, who have applied modern marketing methods to political campaigns. So in place of Ed Flynn, Bill Clinton had Dick Morris, who worked for Republicans as well as Democrats. In place of the Pendergasts, George W. Bush has Karl Rove. The bosses had instincts; the consultants have data. The bosses delivered votes; the consultants deliver polls, focus groups, and pretested messages. The bosses lived for politics; the consultants could be selling anything.
If this sounds like a lament for the bosses, let it be noted that politics is a good deal more unpredictable, and more democratic, without them. The old bosses simply would not have allowed a one-term governor from Georgia to run for President in 1976.
Then again, no political boss would have conducted polls to help a President decide where to spend his vacation, as Morris did for Clinton.
They changed everything else (or at least they think they did), so why not politics? The next time you hear a presidential candidate discussing his or her choice of underwear, you know who to blame.