Chester Arthur is obscure even for an accidental president. He was James Garfield’s Veep for six months. Garfield’s murder was a turning point. He had the experience and disposition to be a great reforming liberal president.
Chet Arthur was the hack’s hack, the ward heeler’s ward heeler. He was a product of the New York state Republican machine; placed on the ticket by Garfield to placate New York Senator Roscoe Conkling who was a vain almost absurd figure as you can see here:
Roscoe is a name that should be revived even if it’s a euphemism for a gun. I thought I’d take a shot at it here…
Conkling made Chet Arthur a rich man by helping him become the Collector of the New York Custom House. It was a grifter’s paradise; the perfect job for a guy who dressed like Arthur in the featured image. I’m not sure if that’s a coat or a winter smoking jacket. In either case, Chester A. Arthur was a dude in the original sense of the word.
Roscoe Conkling’s ownership of Arthur ended when the latter assumed the presidency. Chet Arthur became a reformed sinner. He threw some patronage Conkling’s way but shocked the bosses by taking up a cause dear to James Garfield’s reformist heart:
In his first Annual Message to Congress—now known as the State of the Union—the erstwhile party hack shocked the nation by proclaiming his support for civil service reform and asking for money to revive the moribund Civil Service Commission, which would craft rules for hiring, promoting and firing federal workers and oversee the exams given to aspiring employees.
Arthur eventually won the day, which cost him the support of Conkling and his corrupt cronies.
You’re probably wondering where this is going. Why would Chester Arthur weep? Here’s why according to TPM’s John Light:
In the closing days of the Trump administration, a plan to gut the federal bureaucracy in a hypothetical second term took form, with the comic-book sinister name of Schedule F. (You probably don’t remember this, and that’s fine — a lot was happening, and this is one of those important things that was neatly disguised as a very boring thing.) But in October 2020, just two weeks before Election Day, the President signed an executive order that would allow large swaths of the civil service to be designated as at-will employees, exempt from protections that have for decades insulated those workers from the whims of each presidential administration and from political pressure.
And even though Trump lost the election, TPM revealed that, by December, the political appointees in the lame-duck administration were hard at work populating an Excel spreadsheet with the names of workers who would be given Schedule F status. The number of employees who would qualify could have reached into the hundreds of thousands, experts told us — but it never got that far. The initiative seemed to sputter out — perhaps everyone who still cared was too preoccupied with the election-theft effort — and Trump left office with Schedule F largely unimplemented. Biden unwound Trump’s executive order almost immediately.
Much like Roscoe Conkling, Schedule F is as “comic book sinister” as this Sixties sitcom:
Schedule F is the sort of attack on expertise and knowledge one would expect from the Trumpified GOP. Who needs the Foreign and Forestry Services? No more Doctor Faucis is the Trumpist cry.
Schedule F remains part of the GOP’s agenda if they retake the executive branch. They characterize it as an attack on the Deep State, when it’s just a throwback to the Jacksonian spoils system. Holy big block of cheese day, Batman.
There are no reformed sinners on Team Trump. That’s why Chester Arthur weeps.
Little Feat frontman Lowell George appeared on F-Troop with an earlier band, The Factory. I am not making this up. Since Chet Arthur was on the portly side, the last word goes to Little Feat: