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Memories of the 28th Century

Buying Votes

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While it is illegal in the U.S.A. to pay some directly for their vote, it is lawful and traditional to pay them indirectly. I was reminded about this when I saw a headline about the so-called stimulus bill. Both the Dems and the Reps are trying to pass legislation that will provide money to people affected by the pandemic; i.e., everyone. They have been working on that for a few months, but they haven't managed to do it, yet. There are problems, because both parties want to make it look like they did it over the objection of the other party. But the real problem is that they don't want their opponents to provide anything that might be seen in a good light.

Things like this have been going on for about two hundred thirty years. Every member of Congress wants to give his constituents as much as possible, in the hope that they will be inclined to vote for him again. There have been some interesting programs funded in attempts to buy votes. For example, the transcontinental railroads paid huge amounts to railroad companies, but it also gave huge advantages to people who wanted land for free, because it was cheaper and safer to travel West by train than by wagon. The railroads got vacant land, but the migrants got better lives, or so they thought.

While homesteaders got land for free, which was a good gift at that time. The homesteaders were on their own, but that was fine for a time.

In 1929, when farmers were starting to have trouble, farm price supports were first introduced, but Hoover never got credit for that. The feds bought agricultural products that were not readily salable, That bought a whole lot of votes, but the federal government was stuck with things that no one wanted.

The only way to get rid of things that no one will buy is to give them away. It took a while, but Congress started giving agricultural products that had been bought to support prices to people. It was complicated and changed over the decades, but the farmers were regarded as republicans, and poor people were regarded as democrats, so both parties served their constituents with the same legislation. Agricultural products were fairly straightforward, but there were similar supports for steel and other metals, and those were done through tariffs, and they were ostensibly done to save jobs.

FDR was more involved in buying vote than any other president. He introduced giveaways that were to the advantage of various groups. The WPA and other short term programs gave advantages to the unemployed, and they were not justified by the Constitution, but they did buy votes. Similarly, Social Security is not authorized in the Constitution, but it saved many older people, and it created warm feelings toward those who created the program. On the other hand, participants paid for the retirement insurance benefits they received. In later decades, benefits were granted to some disabled people; these changes were clear examples targetting benefits to people in the hope of getting their votes. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act was all about buying the votes of the disabled, even though the act clearly violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

These days, Trump seems to think that feeding egos is better than paying, and some of his fans seem to be willing to let him merely praise them; although most people still expect a quid pro quo. While there is haggling about economic stimulus, most of the currency is ideological puffery. Who is inflating the egos of ideologues the most, and which candidate would be most advantageous to whom? It is also a matter of which collection of potential voters are being misled.

In the final analysis, most people need financial advantages, but ego boosts can be as effective. I have never read Mein Kampf, but I believe that the stroking of the armed militias in demonstrations against the people looking for police reforms is directly out of Hitler's playbook, and that may create more trouble than we would like.

I encourage readers to do whatever followup research they need and come to their own conclusions.

But buying votes in America has a long and venerable history. For example, in colonial times, it was common for candidates to “treat” voters with food and drink. George Washington won his first by treating the voters better than did his opponent. But things were different in those days, because the Australian ballot wasn't introduced until the lat 1800's, so your neighbors knew how you voted, and vice versa.
Virginia wasn't the only place where voters eat and drank the treats of the candidates, but in some areas it was not as open.

Updated 08-31-2020 at 07:53 PM by PeterL