At this point it looks like there’s only one choice: get money out of politics somehow or other. Meaningful campaign finance reform and other similar measures have the virtue that they address the very root of the problem, and the drawback that they will never, ever happen. (In part because of entrenched interests, but also in part for the legitimate reason that campaign spending has been equated with free speech, which must not be curtailed, especially in a political campaign.) Not to mention that any mere legislation, depending as it does on enforcement and judicial interpretation, is weak medicine in the current environment.
So are we screwed? Are we doomed to suffer the worst that tyranny and endemic corruption can ultimately produce?
I thought so, until I thought of two movies (because that’s how I think, in movies): The Untouchables and Schindler’s List.
You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!
Why are we (the good guys) denying ourselves the use of the most powerful weapon in the other side’s arsenal? I’m talking about bribery. To borrow a page from the NRA (“Guns don’t kill people…”), bribery itself is not the problem; the problem is what people are being bribed to do. There aren’t thousands of evil people in the Establishment. There are just a few; the rest are all whores. The thing is, when only evil people employ whores, the whores only do evil. But the nice thing about whores is that they’ll do whatever you ask as long as the money’s green.
Oskar Schindler understood this. He became one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century by using bribery for good for a change. At the cost of his personal fortune, he bought, via bribery, the lives of hundreds of Jews who were otherwise doomed. To him, it was nobler to befriend and enrich Hitler’s murderous sociopaths and actually accomplish something, dammit than it would have been to disdain those methods and let the “Schindler Jews” perish in the name of not lowering himself to the Nazis’ level.
That was just one man’s wealth. Imagine how much good we can bribe Establishment whores into doing if we pooled our resources! We could bribe Brian Williams into reporting the real news. We could bribe Nancy Pelosi into putting impeachment back “on the table.” We could bribe any number of high-ranking officials to ease their troubled conscience and spill everything they know about Bush administration misdeeds. (As if there were any shortage of evidence.) I thought of this, rushed to the nearest domain registrar and discovered that bribe4good.com was available, and started thinking about how to design a website where citizens could contribute money and dicuss how best to use it to fight bribes with bribes.
Of course, even though there is presently a raging epidemic of illicit bribery, and even though law enforcement agencies routinely look the other way, you better believe that if the good guys started using bribery, the law would crack down faster than you can say, “I’m shocked, shocked!” And forget about keeping secret a slush fund that consists of contributions from millions of individuals (hey, why not dream big), all of them with a say in how the bribes are to be allocated.
But perhaps a modified version of this idea could still work. Instead of setting up a slush fund and proactively bribing those in a position to fix our country, set it up as a reward fund instead, meting it out to those who contribute to achieving specific goals. “Presidential signing statements declared unconstitutional” — $100,000. “War crimes trials for torturers” — $250,000. “Expose attempted bribes between corporate officers and government officials” — twice the amount of the bribe.
I call it Healthy Lucre and have an embryonic demonstration website up and running. Watch this space for further developments.