Ed Driscoll

Tammany Hall Redux: The Clinton Political Machine

“I would argue, the Clinton operation counts as a machine — not just as a metaphor or allegory, but as a bona fide, contemporary update of the old 19th-century operation,” Jay Cost writes at the Weekly Standard:

A lot of people were wondering what public business she was conducting on a private account. What I wanted to know was: what private business did she not want to conduct on a public account? If given three guesses, I’d say: politics, politics, politics.

There’s a historical parallel here with the Cameron Machine of Pennsylvania, which formed in the 1870s and lasted, in one form or another, until the 1920s. Simon Cameron was Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, but was basically fired in 1862 for facilitating graft. Yet he was a political maestro who had grown wealthy by trading on his governmental stature, and he was able to buy his way back into politics. In 1867, he defeated popular wartime governor Andrew Curtin for a Senate seat. This was back when senators were chosen by state legislatures, so Cameron won by persuading or buying off members of the Pennsylvania house and senate. He eventually became a powerhouse during the Ulysses Grant Administration — with control over Pennsylvania patronage, veto authority over executive officers, and a huge, loyal following (the Cincinnati Times estimated at one point that hundreds of people in Washington owed their position to him). He even prevailed upon Grant to name his son, J. Donald, secretary of war, even though Don had no experience to speak of.

Much of this is reminiscent of the Clintons — the initial fall from grace, the careful management of political contacts, the accumulation of wealth via political channels, the carefully run political shop, and especially the nepotism. And also, the cheesy scandals that embarrassed Simon Cameron but never brought him down. Cameron was caught up in a scandal trying to defraud the Winnebago tribe, and later on the House censured him for bilking the War Department — but it barely ever slowed him down. Sound familiar?

So, ultimately the question is: how is a machine liked this stopped? Unfortunately, the only thing that brought down Cameron, Inc. was the Great Depression. It survived the outlawing of the spoils system, the direct election of senators, and even the entirety of the progressive movement against the machines. It even survived the Camerons themselves. That is how powerful it was.

But a machine is only as strong as its component parts, which brings us to our exit quote: “If your lying liar pants on fire source worked with me at a federal agency as you and they contend, did you ask them to provide even a single email exchange with my using that account?”

It’s likely not a good idea at all for someone affiliated with the Clintons to reference pants; it’s poor salesmanship, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.

Update: A video reminder that Clinton Inc. is a multinational machine:

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