In attempting to illuminate "the elemental nature of politics," biographer John Aloysius Farrell writes, in "Revenge is Sweet: Chris Christie, Richard Nixon and the case for retribution in politics," that "American political history is full of broken legs and bloodied noses--as well as payback, bugging, blackmail, break-ins and other dirty tricks."
If not the elemental nature of politics, such criminal or extralegal monkeyshines are at least an element of politics, and, as Farrell correctly points out, they have always been with us. The machinations of city bosses, urban machines, country demagogues--take them out of America's past and you've little of much interest left, which is why high-school history courses are so dreadfully dull.
Indeed my early teenage interest in politics was sparked in no small degree by listening to old union men talk of Kansas City, Mo.'s political heydays under the magnificently criminal Tom Pendergast--a man under whom a bit of precinct canvassing (or whatnot) could get your hospital bill paid or your unemployed, Depression-era cousin a city job. Tom also owned a concrete company, with which he erected much of present-day downtown Kansas City, with New Deal dollars.
Yet my favorite corrupt politician and urban demagogue has always been that charming Bostonian, James Michael Curley. Now there was a man who knew how to make the machinery of dirty tricks hum--such as when he threatened suggested to a large Boston bank which had refused the city a loan that said city's underground water pipes might burst right beneath said bank, flooding its vaults. Curley got the loan.
A truly charming city boss, Curley was, as well as a congressman and governor and, for a brief while, a guest of the federal penal system. Sure, he was also a bully in a way, but a charming bully, and more than that, a charming bully on behalf of working people.
And it was that--that larger encompassing of political purpose-- that put Curley, and Pendergast, as well as other urban bosses and a few country demagogues, outside of John Aloysius Farrell's Christie-Nixon school of political retribution. For Nixon political power was all about screwing his enemies and helping no one but himself, as has been "the case" for Chris Christie.
It's also why no one now gives a damn that Christie is going down, whereas Curley and Pendergast could hold on for years. For all their blemishes, underhandedness and corruption, they were loved.