The other day John Bolton, our former ambassador to the United Nations, was the guest on FOX’s noontime program, “Outnumbered.” There had been another scandal in the Clinton camp (I’m losing track of them), so Ambassador Bolton suggested that Hillary adopt as her campaign slogan, “Not Indicted Yet.” I laughed out loud. And it reminded me of my favorite campaign slogan of all time, “He Did It for a Friend.”
In the first years of the 20th century, 29-year-old James Michael Curley of Boston was an ambitious politico, a rising star in the Democrats’ machine. Although young, he was already a master of ward politics: Curley knew how to find constituents a job, a doctor, or a lawyer; he made certain that indigent voters had coal in winter and food all year round. And he did favors.
In 1903 Curley was running for the Board of Aldermen. Two young men, newly arrived from Ireland, asked for his help. They wanted jobs in the post office, but they doubted that they could pass the post office’s written exam. Curley and a friend, Thomas Curley (no relation), offered to take the exam for the newcomers. On the day of the test, the Curleys presented themselves as the two would-be postal employees, but by bad luck they were recognized by a government employee who happened to be at the test site that day.
The two Curleys were arrested and hauled into court where they were found guilty of “combining, conspiring, confederating, and agreeing together to defraud the United States.” The sentence: two months in the Charles Street Jail—not the best location from which to run a political campaign. James Curley’s attorney filed an appeal and Curley made bail. Now that he was out, he kicked off the most audacious campaign in American political history.
Curley didn’t apologize for his crime. He didn’t try to minimize it. He didn’t even try to tap dance around it. Curley owned up to it. He crowed about it. And he put it to his overwhelmingly Irish immigrant constituency in a way that he knew would appeal to them: what he had done, “he had done for a friend.” That bold assertion was modified to the punchier “He Did It for A Friend,” which became the slogan for Curley’s bid for the office of alderman. And it worked. By the time Curley had to appear again in court for sentencing, he was well into his first year as alderman. The judge, a Boston Brahmin named James Cabot Lowell, was livid that Curley hadn’t shown a shred of remorse, and that he, Lowell, had set such a light sentence. Nonetheless, Judge Lowell packed Curley off to the Charles Street Jail where for two months the alderman received an endless stream of visitors, many of whom brought him gifts — books or baskets of fresh fruit, Curley’s favorite items. After he served his two months, an even larger crowd turned out to welcome him home.
James Michael Curley was a scoundrel, and scoundrels have always been with us, going back to Cain who, trying to dodge a direct question concerning the whereabouts of his brother Abel, trotted out a question of his own, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain was cagey. Curley was lovable. And daring. And roguish. I think I’d admire Hillary if she became a bit of a rogue, and sly enough to adopt the slogan, “Not Indicted Yet.”