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A CALL FOR THE EMANCIPATION OF THE GENEROUS
ENERGIES OF A PEOPLE
LET THERE BE LIGHT
HE concern of patriotic men is to put our Government again on its right basis, by substituting the popular will for the rule of guardians, the processes of common counsel for those of private arrangement. In order to do this,
a first necessity is to open the doors and let in the light on all affairs which the people have a right to know about.
In the first place, it is necessary to open up all the processes of our politics. They have been too secret, too complicated, too roundabout; they have consisted too much of private conferences and secret understandings, of the control of legislation by men who were not legislators, but who stood outside and dictated, controlling oftentimes by very questionable means, which they would not have dreamed of allowing to become public. The whole process must be altered. We must take the selection of candidates for office, for example, out of the hands of small groups of men, of little coteries, out of the hands of machines working behind closed doors, and put it into the hands of the people themselves again by means of direct primaries and elections to which candidates of every sort and degree may have free access. We must substitute public for private machinery.
It is necessary, in the second place, to give society command of its own economic life again by denying to those who conduct the great modern operations of business the privacy that used to belong properly enough to men who used only their own capital and their individual energy in business. The processes of capital must be as open as the processes of politics. Those who make use of the great modern accumulations of wealth, gathered together by the dragnet process of the sale of stocks and bonds, and piling up of reserves, must be treated as under a public obligation; they must be made responsible for their business methods to the great communities which are in fact their working partners, so that the hand which makes correction shall easily reach them and a new principle of responsibility be felt throughout their structure and operation.
What are the right methods of politics? Why, the right methods are those of public discussion: the methods of leadership open and above board, not closeted with “boards of guardians” or anybody else, but brought out under the sky, where honest eyes can look upon them and honest eyes can judge of them.
If there is nothing to conceal, then why conceal it? If it is a public game, why play it in private? If it is a public game, then why not come out into the open and play it in public? You have got to cure diseased politics as we nowadays cure tuberculosis, by making all the people who suffer from it live out of doors; not only spend their days out of doors and walk around, but sleep out of doors; always remain in the open, where they will be accessible to fresh, nourishing, and revivifying influences.
1, for one, have the conviction that government ought to be all outside and no inside. I, for my part, believe that there ought to be no place where anything can be done that everybody does not know about. It would be very inconvenient for some gentlemen, probably, if government were all outside, but we have consulted their susceptibilities too long already. It is barely possible that some of these gentlemen are unjustly suspected; in that case they owe it to themselves to come out and operate in the light. The very fact that so much in politics is done in the dark, behind closed doors, promotes suspicion. Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety. So, our honest politicians and our honorable corporation heads owe it to their reputations to bring their activities out into the open.
At any rate, whether they like it or not, these affairs are going to be dragged into the open. We are more anxious about their reputations than they are themselves. We are too solicitows for their morals, - if they are not,— to permit them longer to continue subject to the temptations of secrecy. You know there is temptation in loneliness and secrecy. Haven't you experienced it? I have. We are never so proper in our conduct as when everybody can look and see exactly what we are doing. If you are off in some distant part of the world and suppose that nobody who lives within a mile of your home is anywhere around, there are times when you adjourn your ordinary standards. You say to yourself: "Well, I'll have a fling this time; nobody will know anything about it.” If you were on the desert of Sahara, you would feel that you might permit yourself,— well, say, some slight latitude in conduct; but if you saw one of your immediate neighbors coming the other way on a camel, - you would behave yourself until he got out of sight. The most dangerous thing in the world is to get off where nobody knows you. I advise you to stay around among the neighbors, and then you may keep out of jail. That is the only way some of us can keep out of jail.
Publicity is one of the purifying elements of politics. The best thing that you can do with anything that is crooked is to lift it up where people can see that it is crooked, and then it will either straighten itself out or disappear. Nothing checks all the bad practices of politics like public exposure. You can't be crooked in the light. I don't know whether it has ever been tried or not; but I venture to say, purely from observation, that it can't be done.
And so the people of the United States have made up their minds to do a healthy thing for both politics and big business. Permit me to mix a few metaphors: They are going to open doors; they are going to let up blinds; they are going to drag sick things into the open air and into the light of the sun. They are going to organize a great hunt, and smoke certain animals out of their burrows. They are going to unearth the beast in the jungle in which when they hunted they were caught by the beast instead of catching him. They have determined, therefore, to take an axe and raze the jungle, and then see where the beast will find cover. And I, for my part, bid them Godspeed. The jungle breeds nothing but infection and shelters nothing but the enemies of mankind.
And nobody is going to get caught in our hunt except the beasts that prey. Nothing is going to be cut down or injured that anybody ought to wish preserved.
You know the story of the Irishman who, while digging a hole, was asked, “Pat, what are you doing,- digging a hole?" And he replied, “No, sir; I am digging the dirt, and laving the hole." It was probably the same Irishman who, seen digging around the wall of a house, was asked, "Pat, what are you doing?” And he answered, "Faith, I am letting the dark out of the cellar.” Now, that's exactly what we want to do, let the dark out of the cellar.
Take, first, the relations existing between politics and business.
It is perfectly legitimate, of course, that the business interests of the country should not only enjoy the protection of the law, but that they should be in every way furthered and strengthened and facilitated by legislation. The country has no jealousy of any connection between business and politics which is a legitimate connection. It is not in the least averse from open efforts to accommodate law to the material development which has so strengthened the country in all that it has undertaken by supplying its extraordinary life with its necessary physical foundations.
But the illegitimate connections between business and legislation are another matter. I would wish to speak on this subject with soberness and circumspection. I have no desire to excite anger against anybody. That would be easy, but it would do no particular good. I wish, rather, to consider an unhappy situation in a spirit that may enable us to account for it, to some extent, and so perhaps get at the causes and the remedy. Mere denunciation doesn't help much to clear up a matter so involved as is the complicity of business with evil politics in America.
Every community is vaguely aware that the political machine upon which it looks askance has certain very definite connections with men who are engaged in business on a large scale, and the suspicion which attaches to the machine itself has begun to attach also to business enterprises, just because these connections are known to exist. If these connections were open and avowed, if everybody knew just what they involved and just what use was being made of them, there would be no difficulty in keeping an eye upon affairs and in controlling them by public opinion. But, unfortunately, the whole process of law-making in America is a very obscure one. There is no highway of legislation, but there are many by-ways. Parties are not organized in such a way in our legislatures as to make any one group of men avowedly responsible for the course of legislation. The whole process of discussion, if any discussion at all takes place, is private and shut away from public scrutiny and knowledge. There are so many circles within circles, there are so many indirect and private ways of getting at legislative action, that our communities are constantly uneasy during legislative sessions. It is this confusion and obscurity and privacy of our legislative method that gives the political machine its opportunity. There is no publicly responsible
man or group of men who are known to formulate legislation and to take charge of it from the time of its introduction until the time of its enactment. It has, therefore, been possible for an outside force,the political machine, the body of men who nominated the legislators and who conducted the contest for their election, to assume the rôle of control. Business men who desired something done in the way of changing the law under which they were acting, or who wished to prevent legislation which seemed to them to threaten their own interests, have known that there was this definite body of persons to resort to, and they have made terms with them. They have agreed to supply them with money for campaign expenses and to stand by them in all other cases where money was necessary if in return they might resort to them for protection or for assistance in matters of legislation. Legislators looked to a certain man who was not even a member of their body for instructions as to what they were to do with particular bills. The machine, which was the centre of party organization, was the natural instrument of control, and men who had business interests to promote naturally resorted to the body which exercised the control.
There need have been nothing sinister about this. If the whole matter had been open and candid and honest, public criticism would not have centred upon it. But the use of money always results in demoralization, and goes beyond demoralization to actual corruption. There are two kinds of corruption,- the crude and obvious sort, which consists in direct bribery, and the much subtler, more dangerous, sort, which consists in a corruption of the will. Business men who have tried to set up a control in politics through the machine have more and more deceived themselves, have allowed themselves to think that the whole matter was a necessary means of self-defence, have said that it was a necessary outcome of our political system. Having reassured themselves in this way, they have drifted from one thing to another until the questions of morals involved have become hopelessly obscured and submerged. How far away from the ideals of their youth have many of our men of business drifted, enmeshed in the vicious system, — how far away from the days when their fine young manhood was wrapped in "that chastity of honor which felt a stain like a wound!”
It is one of the happy circumstances of our time that the most intelligent of our business men have seen the mistake as well as the immorality of the whole bad business. The alliance between business and politics has been a burden to them,— an advantage, no doubt,