Saturday, January 18, 2014

Naming ATF Headquarters After Eliot Ness Might Actually Be Appropriate

There is a move to name the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives headquarters in Washington, DC after Eliot Ness of Untouchables fame. This move is supported by both Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Jonathan Eig, author of Get Capone, thinks this is a lousy idea. In his article in today's Wall Street Journal, Eig lays out his reasoning.
Naming ATF headquarters after Ness is a lousy idea. It would be like naming Wrigley Field after the former Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano, a hot dog who never lived up to his hype.

Capone was actually brought down by President Herbert Hoover, U.S. Attorney George E.Q. Johnson and Internal Revenue investigators Frank Wilson and Elmer Irey, among others.
Want to name a building after one of them? Go for it. They did heroic work; it isn't their fault that their stories were never made into TV shows or movies. Most government employees (senators not included) do their best work quietly and without looking for attention—just ask any of the attorneys, scientists and investigators working today at the ATF's unnamed headquarters building.

Eliot Ness was little more than a nuisance to Capone. The lawman raided some of the gangster's breweries, helped disrupt his cash flow and built evidence that led to Capone's indictment for violating prohibition. But in the end, prosecutors decided they couldn't win with that evidence and dropped the charges. They wisely chose a more conservative approach: going after the gangster for income-tax evasion.
Moreover, Eig writes that Ness played around on his wife, tried to cover up an accident in which he was involved while driving drunk, he drank too much, and ended up selling frozen hamburger patties in the last years of his life because he was strapped for cash.

To summarize, Ness didn't get his man, he had questionable morals, he probably was an alcoholic, he covered up a crime, he couldn't manage his money, and he was prone to wild exaggeration about his accomplishments.

When you look at that summary of Ness' life and career, who better to represent the modern day ATF?

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