Now that Bostonians have heard what city councilmen a few of their number have elected they can begin to wonder just why the Democratic Committee so very nearly swept the polls. The fact that it was admitted to be "a contest of the politicians against the so-called reform organizations" makes the victory all the stranger. An answer to the rather vexing problem presented by the result, of the elections can be found in Mr. Frank R. Kent's articles in the World's Work on "The Great Game of Politics"; and in one word that answer is: "machine."
Even students of practical courses in government sometimes experience an uncomfortable sensation of remoteness from the world of actualities, especially on occasions when, as in the recent election, there is glimpsed for a moment the secret effectiveness of the "machine." Lowest of the cogs in this city mechanism is the precinct leader, absolutely responsible for 65 votes to be cast as his superiors dictate; next in the hierarchy is the ward boss who controls some 1300 votes; and finally comes the city boss with his loyal ileutenants. These political executives devote their entire time to a cultivation of influence, except what is necessary to spend as officials on the public payroll. It is peculiarly significant that this entire structure is based upon the assumption that all voters will not cast their ballots.
The fact that government is directly based upon party politics is not in itself objectionable; the English system is a frank acceptance of the dominance of parties in national government. But partly because of the constitutional disregard of this factor in American government, the "machines" secretly control the legislatures of the states and practically repudiate the principle of popular sovereignty. As a result of the backstage tactics of local politicians, a goodly proportion of otherwise astute citizens refuse even to exercise their right to vote--thereby strengthening even more the position of the boss and his cohorts. The problem of American local politics is therefore not primarily one of reforming the politician, but of making the voter vote.
The unusual prosperity of the last decade has made the citizenry foolishly tolerant of municipal and state extravagence; and perhaps only a period of depression will force voters to scrutinize the conduct of local officials. Yet in this age of insistent press preaching it should hardly be necessary to await such a period. However, it is becoming increasingly clearer that as long as citizens are so indifferent to the character of local and state governments that they refuse to cast ballots the "machine" will continue to run secretly and smoothly; and the average college man will never seriously undertake a public career.