It's 2012. Do You Know Where Your Jimmy Hoffa Is?
Who doesn't love a mystery? Anytime there is a search for the body of Jimmy Hoffa, it becomes one of my favorite stories of the year. This year it was Roseville, Michigan. It doesn't matter that it's the same story over and over again. Hell, religions are built on the same thing. The "Where is Hoffa?" story always consists of some old guy in Michigan or Indiana having a tip, the blue-wind-breaker feds come in, dig dozens of holes in some other guy's yard, find nada, and leave the property looking like the biggest moles in the universe had quite a party. "Our work is done here, folks."
Jimmy Hoffa was a very important American. Big, bad warts and all, he moved America forward, begining with his career as a union organizer in 1932, the same year FDR was first elected. It was at the height of the Depression. Hoffa was a threat to the corporatist, money-grubbing status quo. Hoffa fought for a fair shake for workers, and he did it at a time when workers died in that fight. It was a time when the corporate masters thought nothing about hiring someone to kill you if you "got out of line" or spoke up for yourself. It was the kind of time that neo-fascist Midwestern Republican governors with names like Snyder, Walker, and Kasich dream of bringing back.
Say what you want about Hoffa, we may need his like again someday soon. The times he lived in created him. The current Jimmy Hoffa, his son, is also the Teamsters president, but he is a product of milder times. Those times are changing, however -- for the worse, egged on by radical politicians, their sleazy financial backers, and their media propagandists. The current Jimmy Hoffa sees the possibility of a return to the days of labor wars over right-to-work-for-less bills. Regarding Michigan Governor Snyder's recent attacks on labor, he says, "We're going to have a civil war in this state."
Hopefully, the current Jimmy Hoffa can win the war without making the same pact with the devil that his father did. The needs will be the same. Can the means be different?
************By the time he was done, the original Jimmy Hoffa ran the largest single union in the United States. The membership of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters had grown from 75,000 in 1933 to 1.5 million strong when Hoffa became its president in 1957. If a company wanted something trucked, chances were that IBT would be doing the trucking. Got a problem with that?
Along the way, Hoffa ticked off everybody, including AFL-CIO President George Meany and the chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, Bobby Kennedy, who would eventually become U.S. attorney general. The confrontations were the stuff of legend. Said Kennedy on the Jack Paar show one night, "All of our lives are too intricately woven with this union to sit passively by and allow the Teamsters under Mr. Hoffa's leadership to create such a superpower in this country, a power greater than the people and greater than the government."
Bobby Kennedy saw the immensity of Hoffa's power, and he saw who was working with him. He even named them on live television. The names were Johnny Dio and Tony "Ducks" Corallo. Hoffa didn't cross picket lines. He crossed other lines, to both good and bad. The man was a ruthless, single-minded pragmatist. Some might say he was amoral. But he would probably reply along the lines of: "You want amoral? I got your amoral right here in this crowbar."
To do what was necessary, Hoffa had done a deal with the Mafia, just as FDR had done a deal with the Mafia when he wanted to keep our docks free of German sympathizers during WWII. Both actions had a cost, a big cost, but the goal was achieved in each case. There were differences in the two deals, though. FDR offered to overlook some issues. Hoffa took the devil into his house, and by 1964 he was going to prison. In 1967 he went in, sentenced to 13 years for jury tampering, attempted bribery, and fraud. Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.
It's also not surprising that Nixon knew where hush money could be obtained when his Watergate scandal blew up -- "but that would be wrong" (wink, wink). We now know that Nixon always had bags of cash around, literally brown-paper grocery bags full, and he could always get more. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, even had it delivered to his office. It's a little more sophisticated today. We have K Street now.
Suffice to say that in 1971 Tricky Dick, now the president, pardoned James Hoffa and Hoffa left jail on the condition that he cease trying to regain control of the union. He even got an unheard-of $1.7 million pension. But the same single-minded focus that had driven him to build the union to such heights of power was not about to let him just retire to Florida with his pension. He wanted to run things again. The problem was that Hoffa's hand-picked successor, Frank Fitzsimmons, was well-liked by Nixon, and the mob found Fitzsimmons more pliable than Hoffa; such a coincidence! Next thing ya know, Hoffa got into the wrong car and rode away into mystery.
The FBI says, in its 56-page "Hoffex memo" (1976), that Hoffa was murdered by mob figures who saw his desire to regain power as a threat to the Teamsters pension fund, which they now controlled. Interestingly, hundreds of millions of Teamster dollars had disappeared just before his disappearance.
"Ain't nothin' to see here." But, that's the point. It's always in some town in Michigan or Indiana or some other godforsaken Nugent land, where there never has been anything to see. But still they come, hoping to see something, anything. It's palpable desperation. I suppose it's the same thing that causes people to buy a tabloid that proclaims: "Pictures of Princess Kate's Rear!" People may not have much time or money, but they are sure eager to part with some of either just to break the monotony. The Hoffa thing has the extra life because not only is it inexorably tied to Richard Nixon and the Mob, it's also a larger than life cult of personality thing.
For those of you who sadly missed the 1960s, Richard Nixon and the Mob was not some wild and crazy rock group. Neither was the Jimmy Hoffa Mob Experience. No, but Richard Nixon was crazy as any "Goodfella," and he and Hoffa must have seen something in each other, even if it was just the willingness to do anything for power. Both Nixon and those Mob folks were pretty damn crazy. You've seen The Sopranos. That Nixon wasn't literally on Tony's crew or one of the Goodfellas is simply an accident of geography and environment -- right guy, wrong place. Instead, he became Mr. "I Am the President" and Mr. "I Am Not a Crook." Hmmm, the evidence says otherwise, Dick. Things were different in those days, right? But how much will the future mirror the past?
Anyway, I'll tell you where Hoffa is really buried. No, it's not under some poor sod's driveway, as the latest tip went. And it wasn't under the end zone at the old New York Giants Stadium in the fabulous "Meadowlands" of industrial New Jersey. Here's the truth: Hoffa is buried in Nixon's grave, with Nixon, where he belongs. Two sides of the same coin, two peas in a pod, happily spooning for eternity.
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