December 26, 1997

Buying Votes

Investigating committee council: Then you are working for your own pocket, are you not?

Tammany Boss Richard Croker: All the time, the same as you.

New York City Committee Hearings, c.1900

While it may be difficult to convert a dictatorship to some form of democracy or republic, going the other way is the easiest thing that there is. That is why, in our land of the free, people have voluntarily given the power to govern them to some real sleeze bags.They have usually been very clever sleeze bags.

The truth of the matter is that both politicians and votes are bought. The only matter of contention has to do with the price.

An old adage is that every man has his price.The price of a single vote has changed over the years. At the turn of the century, the vote of a poor man in colder cities could be bought with a bucket of coal and a turkey at Christmas time. That vote could also be bought on a permanent basis with a job.

The turkeys are now given away in the cities by people who also want gratitude and support, but it is not, I think, for votes. I have not lived in a big city for a long time, so I am not sure of this. I am sure that someone like Rev. Cecil Williams in San Francisco has influence. When he says something, he is listened to and his church is always full.

What I am sure of is that those giving away the food are gaining something from their act. One TV personality, I suspect, is doing it so that people will think that he is a nice guy. He has to give things away because he is such a disagreeable person.

Even though the basic principle that votes can be, and are, bought, the advent of television has change the mechanics of the process. Now a politician doesn't buy individual votes, he buys air time and clever professionally-crafted commercials. Those commercials can usually convince enough people to vote for that candidate.

People can still be bought for jobs, even though most of the jobs aren't given out directly by local politicians. When the unemployment rate is low, any state or federal politician can get re-elected, and when the jobless rate is high, incumbents can often kiss their own jobs goodbye.

A good rule of thumb is that the election will go to the candidate who spends the most money. This is almost a political law. The reason that I say "almost," is because there are occasional exceptions. Like the time millionaire Huffington spent enough money to defeat Diane Feinstein for sure, but lost anyway.

Now another millionaire named Checchi (I learned about him from his commercials) is trying to beat Lady Di Fi in the primaries. He is flooding the airwaves with the promise to fix everything that is wrong with with everything. If I thought that he could fix just one of the things that he is promising to fix, I would consider voting for him. The problem is that he probably doesn't have the faintest idea of how to do it.

He can't lose with his commercials, because he is gaining name and face recognition, which is probably what he really wants. However, to become California's Ross Perot, he will have to get some plastic surgery to change the shape of his nose and enlarge his ears.The way he looks now, he could be any old garden variety millionaire running for office. Maybe a red wig??

I thought that this year, with Clinton's former chief of staff Leon Panetta running, that California might have a chance to get a decent governor. But we have heard nothing from him, so that seems unlikely. It now looks as if the race will be between two political hacks, neither of whom would be capable of doing much more than signing papers or, as in Pete Wilson's case, not signing papers. The last California governor who managed to do something (start the state university system) was Earl Warren. He got another point as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that abolished school segregation. Well, the supreme court decision was supposed to end school segregation.

We will now have open primaries. California had this before, but is was called "cross-filing." Open primaries will work fine, as closed primaries do, as long as each party has a hotly contested primary race. When the candidate of one party is a shoo in, voters of that party will vote for the opposing party's candidate who will be the easiest one to beat. It will be a disaster, just like cross-filing was. I take that back; considering the quality of the candidates, it probably doesn't matter much who wins.

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