Special Report

Enlightened Bribery

All the greats, from Lincoln to Obama, do it, according to the chattering class.

By 11.20.12

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"A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul," said the English writer George Bernard Shaw. Mitt Romney would agree. His post-election analysis of Obama's success at bribing voters ran along the same lines. "What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote," Romney told disappointed donors last week.

Desperate to appear piously contrite and malleable in the eyes of voters, Republicans pounced on Romney's remark, calling it "insulting" and "stupid." The same Republicans who backed Romney on "electability" grounds now treat him as a hopelessly impolitic embarrassment to the party.

But in working themselves up into a lather over his remark, they didn't refute it. Their truth-defying pandering is far more troubling than Romney's comment. Obama obviously did collect votes by promising free contraceptives, forgiven loans, food stamps, and so on. If the Republicans plan to recover from defeat by imitating Obama and joining him in a bribery contest, they don't deserve to win, and they won't win. Given the choice between two demagogic parties, the American people will choose the one that is better at it, the Democrats.

Defeated Republicans, who seek to get back into the good graces of the people through flattery and pandering, sound as pathetic as the 19th-century French politician Alexandre Ledru-Rollin. Asked where the people were headed, he replied, "I do not know, but I am their leader, so I must follow them."

If that's the GOP's idea of leadership, it won't be of much use to the country once it does get back into power. Two parties seeking to win elections on the same false principles will just hasten America's collapse.

The national GOP should take a look at California to see what happens to a party that abandons principle for power: it ends up with neither. Oblivion, not resurgence, is the legacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger's moderate GOP.

At a time when our political discourse needs if anything to widen, the chattering class demands it narrow. The parties must grow ever closer together. "Compromise" is the mark of "mature" politicians. "Cooperation" is what's needed now. All this prattle ignores that America's deepest problems bear bipartisan fingerprints. America's trillions of dollars in debt and mushrooming entitlement crisis are nothing if not monuments to bipartisanship. The drive to narrow the debate and reduce differences between the parties contributes to a culture in which these problems will never be solved. Both parties, under this culture, compete for empty wins as they lose a country.

Obama practices enlightened bribery, as members of the dominant elite see it, and they exhort Republicans to do the same. Dirty politics is fashionable again, as evident in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. The movie casts Lincoln as a briber who used patronage jobs to win votes for the Thirteenth Amendment. The movie glories in compromise and low practical politics -- none of which is meant to diminish the audience's respect for Lincoln or his Congressional allies. On the contrary, they are all the greater for it. The movie's dunces are the pols who refuse to compromise. The movie, based on a Doris Kearns Goodwin book, is designed to be "relevant" to modern audiences, which is to say it flatters modern liberals who consider themselves moral giants even as they use scummy means to get what they want. Instead of rising to Lincoln's level, liberals prefer to bring him down to theirs. He apparently, judging by this movie, was just like their other corner-cutting heroes: FDR, LBJ, JFK, and now Obama. Why isn't Goodwin as charmed by Nixon's low tactics?

Obama recently enjoyed a private screening of the movie and no doubt identified with its hero. The more shallow and ignoble America's pols become, the more they fancy themselves Lincolnian. Were Lincoln alive today, he would find the level of demagoguery in American politics unfathomable and the quality of compromise degrading and myopic. Only liberals could kid themselves into seeing Obama's politics of bribery and envy as a new birth of freedom.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.