by J.D. Tuccille
February 1, 1997

Stop Me Before I Sin Again

Silly me. I thought things in the political world were cooling down. The election season is over, the inauguration past, Bubba and Newt locked in a game of Mutually Assured Embarassment. But a glance at the front page of the newspaper would seem to indicate that Clinton’s preference for greasy burgers has affected more than his girth. Yup, to judge by the money trail, the grease seems to have given the president a bad case of sticky fingers. And now, with the fervent cry for help of a new AA member, he calls out: Stop me before I sin again!

Like a true adherent to the modern cult of dependency, Clinton doesn’t apologize; he knows that he is helpless before temptation. “Mistakes were made,” he says as clumps of cash keep surfacing from origins varied and exotic. Indonesian lobbyists? Of course. The Pennsylvania Avenue Bed and Breakfast? Luxury suites are available, with late-night bed-time stories as read by the chief executive himself. Care for a cup of coffee with the great man? There’s a sliding scale of rates, and your generosity will land you a place of honor in the Friends of Bill database stored on taxpayer-funded computers.

Well, yes, mistakes were made, but the president’s not-quite mea culpa does nothing to improve the matter, nor will the bipartisan calls for help from a higher power in the form of tougher campaign finance rules (and what a peculiar logic that excuses a crime because the rules against said transgression aren’t tough enough. Would the president commit rape if the penalties were a bit ... wait ... let me rephrase that). Not even Senator Fred Thompson’s promised hearings into the the source of the money leaking from avery nook and cranny of the White House will do much to address the root causes of the problem — although I anticipate much entertainment value in the very sharp senator’s efforts.

For once, the cries of helplessness may actually have a foundation in reality. No, it’s not just Bubba’s and Newt’s infantile Now Now Now lack of self-control, nor a sinister conspiracy by a lobbyists’ cabal to make our elected leaders wealthy beyond their dreams. No, the true irresistable temptation is the incomparable power that leads responsible adults to risk imprisonment and public humiliation, and to bargain their integrity like camel dealers in a mideastern bazaar.

The fact is, the prize is too damned big to not beg, borrow and steal. Companies, individuals, fortunes and ways of life can sink or swim depending on the whims of congress-critters and unelected bureaucrats. From wetlands regulation to trade sanctions to gun control laws, enormous stakes can rest upon the goodwill of a president or a handful of congressional committee members. Tighten the rules on gifts and lobbying if you will; if billions of dollars, the future of a country, or precious liberty is at stake, somebody will find a way to offer inducements to those who make the decisions.

As often as not, that somebody is us. Lobbyists and deep-pockets donors aren’t alien creatures descended on Planet D.C. from the world of Mars Attacks! Nope, they’re often professionals hired by organizations that you and I join in order to protect our interests. Think about it: If, like me, you’ve spent much of your life living in high-tax jurisdictions (and let’s leave the quality of my common sense out of this), and you’re faced with yet another threatened tax-hike, is it more effective to blow a wad of cash on petitions, marches and “voter education”? Or to get an anti-tax group to drop ten grand into the Fund To Re-elect State Senator Fat Load for a chance to bend the good fellow’s ear? Why should an Indonesian businessman worried about trade sanctions react any differently? How could a corporate executive refrain from seeking every advantage in a tightly regulated industry?

What’s that, you say? Slap these glorified bribery artists into the pokey to set up housekeeping with Mongo, the amorous cell-mate? But the money is generally offered by middlemen, and middlemen may be the cheapest part of the whole transaction. You say my anti-tax group’s political consultant violated the campaign finance laws? For shame. We denounce him. We’ll clearly have to be more careful with our next hire.

And the politicians aren’t sitting there in boy-scout innocence. In long, expensive election campaigns they need an influx of funds — or maybe they just need to cover some unexpected personal debts. Either way, it’s tough to turn down dangled cash when the attached strings are relatively elastic and your colleagues and opponents are certainly being offered the same goodies. The occasional choirboy or girl might get some mileage back home, but damn that’s a lot of money — and martyrdom is a lonely calling.

Pass any reforms you want and make the penalties draconian. The only effect you’ll have is to convert open donations into sophisticated payoffs or midnight suitcase drops. As long as the state is insinuated into every aspect of life, and a relative handful of politicians can transform the fate of hundreds of millions of human beings with a simple up and down vote, we can’t afford to not try to buy their favor.

Stop Bubba before he sins again? Make him irrelevant. Then those sticky fingers won’t matter.

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 1997 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and I’ll use your polished skull as a beer mug.