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.