I worry about today's politicians because they see political power as something that arises from whipping the masses into a frenzy, often over issues based in bigotry and hate, while failing to understand the responsibility that comes with that power. People join political movements out of fear, anger, and need - and it is the "need" component that ultimately determines whether they will stay with the movement or not. Politicians can yell about immigrants destroying the economy until the cows come home, but at some point they actually have to begin making positive changes in peoples' lives, or the momentum moves on to other politicians who address matters in more practical and positive terms.
James "Whitey" Bulger was arrested this week in California after being on the run for seventeen years. The old Boston mob boss (now in his eighties) was personally responsible for lots of crime and reportedly more than a few murders. Yet, not everyone in Boston is pleased that he has been caught. Bulger, you see, was also a consummate politician who understood how to build and take care of his base. If a family in South Boston was in need, Bulger's people showed up with groceries, or rent money, or access to medical care. He was there for his people, and they, in turn, were loyal to him.
Bulger built bridges into the Boston police community and even into the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and it was, in fact, FBI agents who tipped him off that the government was about to pounce seventeen years ago - giving him an opportunity to flee. The movie, The Departed, was based loosely on Whitey Bulger, and Matt Damon's character who was groomed by the mob to be a cop and ultimately their inside man on the force, is an example of how Bulger's power actually worked. Bulger gave jobs to kids, sent them to school, directed them into career paths, and let them know when repayment was due.
Tom Pendergast ran Kansas City in much the same manner several decades earlier, and he was preceded by George Washington Plunkitt and Boss Tweed in New York. Those political bosses literally built power block-by-block and precinct-by-precinct, trading favors for votes. And while a vote might be viewed by some as sacred, when your family is hungry it is simply a means to a meal.
Mob bosses and political bosses understand that the root of power is the ability to take care of people. If the government would step up and assume some social responsibility, or insure a decent standard of living for all who are willing to work, the need for "bosses" would start to dry up. If churches would begin helping the poor instead of demonizing them, the need for "bosses" would start to dry up. If people would begin focusing on the Golden Rule instead of the rule of gold, then the need for "bosses" would start to dry up.
Whitey Bulger will spend his final few years in a cage - and he has earned that. But Whitey Bulger was enabled in his quest for power and control in South Boston by several levels of government who couldn't or wouldn't meet the needs of their citizens, gilded churches with agendas other than helping the poor, and individuals focused solely on personal greed. Those in need were left to Whitey.