Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been convicted on 17 of 20 counts of extortion and other forms of corruption, centering mainly around his attempt to sell the senate seat of Barack Obama to the highest bidder. Shame on him. His behavior was typical of Illinois politicians, or even politicians in general. He should go to jail!
Extortion can be looked upon as bribery, seen from the other side. In other words, if you bribe someone, you offer him money to influence his actions. Blagojevich didn’t bribe anyone; he indicated, instead, that he would be open to taking a bribe in return for political favors. That’s extortion: benefiting by use of power or influence. Apparently the Illinois governor’s salary wasn’t enough for Blago; he wanted a little extra icing on his cake. And so he goes to jail.
A cynic might ask how this differs from everyday political chicanery. Have no other governors, in the same situation, acted the same way? Have no other political figures benefited from offering favors? A rhetorical question, and irrelevant. If a good defense was “everybody else does it,” the jails would be empty.
But it’s not only political figures who engage in this behavior. The remarkable, but not-remarked-upon aspect of the Blagojevich case is how typical it is of American “democracy.” Bribery, or extortion, is as American as apple pie, and, indeed, is highly esteemed and recommended.
I’m talking about voting, dear reader. Do you think it’s just barely possible that people vote out of self-interest? You cast your ballot for the candidate who promises the most of what you want. It’s bribery/extortion on a massive scale. And there’s no secret about it.
Do not labor unions urge their members to vote for the candidate with the strongest pro-labor record? Do not associations of the elderly recommend to their members the candidate with the best pro-Medicare record, etc.? Do you think that teachers’ organizations would recommend the election of a candidate who promised to abolish public schools? In all these cases, the voters are offering a bribe to the candidate: I’ll give you my vote; you do such-and-such for me. And the candidate is extorting: You give me the favor of your vote, and just see what I’ll do for you! And both voters and candidates are utterly satisfied with the arrangement, and nasty terms such as bribery or extortion are never heard.
If there’s a lesson for politicians to learn, it might be this: When doing what everyone else does, be discreet, not so greedy, and don’t rub the wrong people the wrong way. Political friends and allies are apt to be treacherous. After all, if they weren’t susceptible to bribery, they wouldn’t be in politics. For heaven’s sake, watch what you say on the telephone.
And, ideally, find some way of justifying your actions by claiming they are for the benefit of the children. Ah, the children! A guy can’t be all bad when he’s risking his reputation, or even his freedom, for those adorable tots!!
Of, course, you could simply be honest. In that case, you wouldn’t have the problem, because you’d never have gotten elected in the first place.

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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 150


Paul's picture

Well, there's nothing wrong with self-interest. And there is not necessarily anything wrong with voting in self-interest; the last voting I did was to try to vote down a tax hike. I don't call that bribery or extortion; I call it self-defense.

Of course you can argue that voting doesn't work or that it sanctions the existing system, or that SOME voting looks like extortion, and I'd have to agree. But imagining ALL voting is extortion is not going to fly.

dhowlandjr's picture

ALL voting under the current system is violence, though and if you vote for the politician who promises to reduce your taxes, or to not raise them, you're still implying that you accept the idea of taxation in general, and of some politician having the right to take as much as he wants of what you produce away from you to use however he or she pleases, including to kill, lock up or steal from you and your neighbors. It doesn't seem to me to be an effective method of self defense. Kind of like walking up to the biggest, meanest bully and offerring him a nickel not to beat you up today. You'd better have that nickel every day from now on. More likely than defending yourself you're setting yourself up for long-term increased enslavement, and more likely than not the price is going to continue to rise. The price you must pay so that your enslavement can continue. Don't stop paying it, for crying out loud, you've got that self-defense excuse!

tzo's picture

I believe the law of unintended consequences as applied to government applies to the voters who attempt to use politics to help themselves.

Walmart doesn't pay enough taxes. They should pay more, not me. So I vote on Proposition 999 and make it so. Then Walmart raises prices to absorb the tax hike. So who's really paying the extra tax?

I drive a lot, and I have the chance to vote on Proposition 888 to decrease the gas tax. It passes. The government responds by raising property taxes and some people end up losing their homes as a result. This includes a family who voted against the gas tax cut because dad walks to work. I win, he loses. I keep a few extra dollars in my pocket and he loses his house. Ah, nothing like slave-on-slave violence.

With the government gun in your hands, you inevitably shoot yourself or your neighbor in the foot. Put the gun down.