How to Buy A Congressman

Let's leave the casino lobby out of this for a moment and instead talk about a hypothetical industry called the Rubber Machete industry, and see what we can learn from studying how they operate.

Let's say people have been ordering and paying for steel machetes, but what's been coming out of the box are rubber machetes instead. Naturally they feel outraged over having been swindled but there's nothing they can do about it because there are no refunds under any circumstances and the machete manufacturers have all been swearing on a stack of Bibles that their industry is honest and the machetes they've been delivering have all been steel, not rubber, and it's all just social activist troublemaker types who've been stirring up all this commotion about rubber machetes.

The scandal reaches the ears of Congressman Jones. Being an honest man he is concerned about the reports of an ongoing swindle and he is now muttering in the Congressional Cloak Room about the need to hold an investigation and look into it.

The Rubber Machete industry and the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm that does their dirty work catch wind of this and decide at once Congressman Jones has got to go. How do they get rid of him? Now that's an example of political footwork that makes the Bolshoi Ballet look like they have two left feet.

Political scientists and other politically-savvy people (such as the Rubber Machete industry's lobbying firm) know that the secret to winning an election in an honest democracy is to position yourself more closely to the center of your constituency than your opponent. Should your opponent already be exactly in the center, as Congressman Jones is, then you just move the center out from under him. Same difference.

If they can't find an attractive candidate, no problem, they can simply CREATE an attractive candidate and see to it he gets however much money and expertise it takes to unseat Congressman Jones and get him out of the Rubber Machete lobby's hair. Being rich, they can afford to hire the most capable consultants and most talented ad agencies in the land to make sure their man wins.

Above all, there must be NO discussion of the rubber machete scandal. The topic must never come up, not even once. If the politicians speak of the rubber machete scandal, the media will report their words and the public will begin thinking about the rubber machete scandal. Therefore the campaign must be waged without the topic of rubber machetes being raised even once. CONGRESSMAN JONES MUST BE DEFEATED ENTIRELY ON OTHER ISSUES. The public must never be brought to think about machetes.

Step one is to scour Congressman Jones' home district for a good-looking young hack who is suitably unburdened by scruples. They find State Assemblyman Prettyjohn who not only looks good on camera but who also is the type who'd sell his own mother for body parts, a natural for the US Congress.

Consultants of extraordinary skill and thoroughness are brought in to analyze every detail of the politics of Congressman Jones' home district. They discover that it lies in a floodplain and every spring hundreds of homes regularly get flooded. This could be remedied by building a system of storm drains to carry the excess water to a nearby river, and there's even a Federal pork barrel program that would cover two-thirds of the cost. But unfortunately there's no surplus funds available to finance the remaining third, so building the storm drains would involve floating a local Bond Issue which would in turn increase the local taxes.

Congressman Jones knows all about this, of course. He long ago sized up the situation and figured out that the few hundred homes that get flooded are actually only a small part of his district, and when he investigated the matter he learned that the people who don't get flooded couldn't care less about the people who do, and what the majority of the voters really care about is not having to pay higher taxes. Therefore Congressman Jones is publicly unsure about the storm drains and the Bond Issue. He doesn't oppose it, he merely fails to support it. He's deeply and generously sympathetic about the plight of the flood victims and he answers every one of their letters with the care of a loving mother, but his position down through the years has always been one of uncertainty, and he continues to call for further study.

The political consultants brought in by the Rubber Machete lobby eye the whole situation and realize Congressman Jones is vulnerable on the storm drains issue. Not that he isn't positioned at the center of his constituency, on the contrary, like any all-pro politician he definitely is, but that the center is vulnerable to a shift and Congressman Jones doesn't realize this.

Across the district things start happening. Someone begins a Homeowners' Improvement Association which begins organizing in behalf of the storm drains. One of the district's prominent newspapers runs a story about a large corporation that decided not to build its new factory in the district after all, citing the annual flooding as evidence of a lack of modern infrastructure. (Not a soul in the district notices that that same large corporation has directors who also sit on the boards of several Rubber Machete manufacturers. Nor does anyone give thought to the number of Rubber Machete ads that same newspaper runs every week, and what kind of revenue they bring in. Why should they? Rubber machetes have nothing to do with the campaign.)

Still another newspaper runs a piece characterizing the district as "backward," and people begin to feel like hillbillies, all because of the annual flooding. (The second newspaper also runs a lot of rubber machete ads, wouldn't you know, but again not a soul, not even the reporter who did the piece, makes the connection. He's just following instructions from his editor.) Behind the scenes what's happening is that a major advertiser gently prods the newspaper's vice-president of advertising, who in turn gently prods the publisher, who in turn gently prods the editor. Who in turn chooses the reporter, a kid just out of school who doesn't know his ass from Mount Rushmore.

State Assemblyman Prettyjohn declares he's in the race, and at once takes up the storm drains issue. The power brokers sponsoring his candidacy are telling him this is the road to go, and like any whore he does as he's told. He says it's time to build the storm drains. He blasts Congressman Jones for not getting the district's fair share of the pork barrel money from Washington and the editorials back him. The TV stations too. People begin to feel Congressman Jones is a doddering incompetent who's lost touch.

Magically there's money enough for State Assemblyman Prettyjohn not only to hold rallies but even cookouts, with free hot dogs for all. Crowds turn up like a flying saucer landing.

Of course there's money for ads. Prettyjohn is running a zillion ads, every one a slickly-produced, high-budget masterpiece. They make him look like a movie star with the wisdom of King Solomon, sharp and capable, a man who knows what's going on.

After 40 years in one place, the center begins shifting. Congressman Jones reminds them he kept their taxes down, but they don't care. The media characterizes him as being out of it, the reason for the district's backwardness, and since the public always buys the media's characterizations, that decides it. On Election Day they dump the backwards idiot and vote in the one who gave them free hot dogs.

And at last Congressman Jones is out of the Rubber Machete lobby's hair.

From now on Prettyjohn is the district's Congressman. He'll have the Rubber Machete lobby's quiet support in every election from then on for the rest of his career, and all he'll have to do in exchange is not give them problems. He'll never have to say a word in favor of rubber machetes. All he'll have to do is never say a word against them.

And the genius of it? Not once in the entire campaign did the word "machete" appear. The real issue never came to the public's attention at all. It was kept secret from them.


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Since the breakout of legalized gambling from Nevada to the rest of the country in the late 1970's, every member of Congress who was outspoken against the casinos has been quietly removed from office.

And the genius of it? Not once in any of these campaigns did the word "casino" appear. The real issue never came to the public's attention at all. It was kept secret from them.

Frederick Lembeck, Author & Journalist, 55 Bethune St., NY, NY  10014  / 212-365-4339 / freddylembeck@gmail.com