A dimly lit parking garage. One man, a staff member for a powerful senator, sits waiting in a running car. Another man appears, opens the passenger door, and gets in. Wordlessly, he hands over a suitcase to the senator’s staff member and then departs. Later the suitcase will be given to the senator. It is full of $100 bills.
Some shady figure promises boatloads of cash to some senator or congressman, and as a result said senator or congressman changes their vote from Yes to No. This is how about 95% of Americans think politics work. It is an idea that is deeply baked into popular thought when it comes to politics.
It is also hopelessly, hilariously wrong.
I understand that Americans have a very cynical view of politics, and I sympathize (but do not empathize) with that cynicism. But the idea that politicians as a general rule of thumb vote for bills solely because they are motivated by money is total insanity, and we should do whatever we can to expunge that thinking. It doesn’t help us and gets us nowhere when it comes to discourse.
Here’s a perfect example. Recently, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted this, um, bad tweet:
Now, on its face, this is pretty bad, because she’s implying—well, not implying, more like just outright saying—that American Jews are using their Jewish money to influence Congress to support Israel. Now, this is historically an anti-Jewish trope, and has been used and supported by wonderful minds like David Duke of the KKK and Adolf Hitler of, well, the German Nazi Party.
Also, as a brief note, before you try to explain away her tweet, Representative Omar has a history of anti-Semitic tropes including this wonderful little number:
But what’s almost worse is that she, a sitting congresswoman, thinks that most of Congress is pro-Israel because of money when there’s another reason: Americans, fundamentally, are supportive of Israel. They just are. Poll after poll shows that Americans not only have a highly favorable image of Israel, but also want to help it defend itself from aggressors (which, if one looks at a map of the Middle East, are not exactly difficult to locate).
It’s not “all about the Benjamins.” It’s “all about wanting to get re-elected by supporting what voters want.”
The problem we’re encountering now as a society is that, with social media and segmented television shows, each side is more and more convinced that they are right. With the echo chambers we surround ourselves with we create a freaky paradox: we a) think that many people around us support our own views, furthering an Us vs. Them dynamic, and b) convince ourselves we are a besieged minority and therefore must fight like hell not only to win, but to survive.
This in turn lends to the thinking in the following scenario:
Senator Smith votes for Bill X. Now, you hate Bill X. Everyone else you see hates Bill X, and only the morons on the other side support Bill X. But Senator Smith- that guy got elected, so he’s either an idiot and fell into it OR he’s being bribed to support Bill X. After all, only an idiot could support Bill X, and if Senator Smith isn’t an idiot, that means he knows what he’s doing is wrong and is supporting Bill X anyway. What swine. Clearly all politicians are bought and paid for. Except the ones who agree with you, of course.
99% of the time, Senator Smith has voted for something you didn’t like because he happened to like that thing. If we try to see politicians as people, a LOT of their rationales make much more sense. The pro-Israel lobby was nothing close to a determinating factor in 2016. The NRA usually spends a paltry couple grand on House races. Same with Planned Parenthood.
But does anyone think Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) supports guns because of NRA cash? Seriously? Does anyone think that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) supports abortion because of Planned Parenthood dough? Of course not. They support those things because they like them. The NRA then gives Cruz support because he already supports gun rights. Same with Feinstein and Planned Parenthood regarding abortion.
Am I saying no politician has ever been bribed? Of course not! They certainly can be, have been, and will be again. But other countries have stringent spending laws in elections, and they have most of the same issues we have. The fact is, the majority of politicians vote for things because they like those things.
Having worked (briefly) in electoral politics, I can tell you straight-up: it’s chaos and a mess. President Obama once said something along the lines of “You have to be a little bit insane to run for president”, and I think the same goes when running for the House of Representatives and for Senate. It eats up your time, a crazy amount of your energy, and in the end most likely half of the country will hate you forever no matter what you do. Even at BEST, 40% will still hate you. And that’s a best-case scenario.
My friends, there are easier ways to make a quick buck.