In a gallant battle that will go unnoticed in most of this turbulent world, I salute the losers. It was not the unworthiness of their cause, but the smallness of their numbers and the apathy of us, their neighbors, that caused them to go down to defeat. In a world of such monstrosities as H-bombs and atomic warheads, they wielded only their honest indignation and their innate sense of a people's process; but their enemy, Robert Moses, moved his squadrons of police, his bulldozers and dump trucks into action, and without a quiver of fear, these brave public servants defeated a handful of women and children.
I speak very seriously. Appraised casually, the moment would seem of little consequence, and the earth does not shake if a half acre of grass and trees in Central Park is turned over to the Tavern on the Green as a parking lot. It is quite true – as a number of city newspapers have pointed out – that the Tavern should not be there at all, the park belongs to the people and that this is one corner of the U.S.A. where private enterprise should be excluded. But we will survive that. It is far more disturbing that none of the newspapers faced the heart of the matter, the dirty role of bossism in this episode, as exemplified by Mr. Moses.
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I don't like Mr. Moses. I don't like and never have liked men who treat adult citizens of this country as if they were mewling idiots who couldn't convey their food to their mouths. The "you don't really know what's good for you" attitude is more befitting a Trujillo than any leader who poses as a servant of a democracy; and while a number of citizens are currently comparing Mr. Moses to Adolf Hitler, I would prefer a comparison to a pettier tyrant and one of an entirely different stripe.
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The moving passion that appears to dominate Mr. Moses is not unfamiliar. His enormous ego is washed constantly by the cool water of paternalism, and the pity he directs toward us, the sub-species who he would benefit, has lulled many people into approval of his deeds and methods. "He gets things done," has been bestowed upon him as an accolade, and mothers are delighted by the crumbs of playgrounds he has granted them. But the philosophy is the philosophy of the boss, who vents double anger upon the "stupid" workers who strike, without even taking into consideration the fact that he, the boss, is the fountainhead of their sustenance.
I thought this went out with Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, but evidently it's due for a resurgence. It's time someone did a sound survey of the number of playgrounds that were not built and asked some questions concerning the 67,000 vacant lots that grace this city with nothing but rats and garbage. We are all dazzled by the white towers and smooth parkways that Mr. Moses casts around the place; but anyone who has driven on those parkways knows how dangerously narrow they are, how thoughtlessly they were planned and how egotistically pragmatic their development was. The white towers of Mr. Moses, as witness the new Coliseum, are equally demonstrative of the "good" hand of the boss – and in this particular daisy, they just happened to forget to include an auditorium.
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Like many a boss, from antiquity to the present day, Mr. Moses seems to be the victim of a search for immortality in high towers and broad bases – and like his forbears, he makes his own decisions. The trouble is that no one is that wise, as we have recently learned.
The case in point, the incident of the Tavern, is symbolic. Thomas Jefferson warned us to educate the people – as our only assurance of lasting liberty. It is a long time since his injunction has been heeded, but it is nevertheless positively amazing how much good common sense the people retain. The Central Park mothers knew what was both necessary and good – in terms of the people. A playground, trees, grass – these were necessary and good. A parking lot was not, and for a very simple reason. If people can afford the price of a meal in the Tavern on the Green, then they can also afford to come there via a subway or bus or cab. If they can afford to eat there and own a car, then they can afford to park it in one of the garages with which West 67 Street abounds. They did not need a parking lot, and Mr. Moses should have had sense enough to understand this. The fact that he did not is indicative of Mr. Moses.
We live in times when a little more than a boss is required, however he, the boss, may admire his own enlightenment. And one could hardly discuss this question without noting that the two favorites – if you listen to the smart money – for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Harriman, are both obsessed by the sound of their own voices. They make a nasty music to the tune of cold war, which has evidently become too cold to suit them; and they attack President Eisenhower, not for his war policies and war expenditures, but for bettering relations with Russia.
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The whole people long for peace and pray for peace and give their love to Mr. Eisenhower for the small surcease from the damnable specter of war that he has brought them; but Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Harriman are bent on convincing the people that we are all a pack of fools, that we only think we want peace, that we don't really know what is good for us, and that cold war and hot war is the proper medicine.
I would recommend to them that they give their serious attention to the battle of the parking lot. Small though it was, much can be learned from it. The philosophy that the people are a senseless and impotent lot has outlived its time. We live in an age that has proven the gallantry and validity of the people, the plain, rank and file people – far more than it has proven the validity of their leadership.