Commentary: On Taking Bribes

The Bribe Principle at Work

Given 25-Dec-10; 16 minutes

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John Ritenbaugh, citing the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, suggests that democracy has an inherent weakness: once the electorate understands it can "get something" from the government, democracy will disintegrate into tyrannical minorities of self-centered coalitions with their hands in the public till, draining the democracy's vitality and strength. The United States today is going through a major deterioration because of dishonest political bargaining and shameless bribes and threats. Recently, Greg Stapleton threatened the European Union to accept Monsanto's genetically modified non-food or face 'unacceptable consequences.' Threats and bribes, rather than public consent, seem to be a major part of the political repertoire in US and international politics today. Bribes and threats, pork or earmarks, are clearly sins, and will have—or will bring—unintended disastrous consequences.



I do not know how many of you have ever heard of the name Alexis de Toqueville, but he was a French journalist and author who toured the United States while the War Between the States was being fought. His insights regarding the United States and how things operated here were often very keen. He had a way of turning a phrase so that his book is very frequently quoted by modern day historians and journalists.

I am going to paraphrase one of his sayings, because I could not find the exact quote in the brief amount of time that I had to research. So I am going to put it into my own language, and I want you to understand that his statement applies to democracies anywhere, not just the American version of it. It applies to democracies anywhere simply because of human nature being everywhere. Democracy is probably the fairest form of government ever formulated by men and used, of course, and it is used largely because of its majority rule provisions.

But democracy has an inherent weakness within it, and this is that to which de Toqueville speaks. He said (paraphrasing), "Once the electorate—that is, the ordinary citizen—discovers that he can get something from the government through his vote, democracy will unravel. It is doomed to chaos." That is a very rough paraphrase, and it is partly because I injected both cause and effect within it.

What literally happens is that democracy disintegrates into tyrannic minorities—a tyranny of minorities. Disparate groups within the nation begin to put together voting blocs of people who have some similar interests and desires. They make deals between themselves to support one another. These groups are commonly called coalitions, and they essentially agree to do this: "You vote for me on this, and then I'll vote for you on that."

Doing this is as natural as breathing in the political world. Both have their hands in the till at one and the same time for somewhat different reasons, and both of the groups within the coalition drain the democratic system of its fairness and strength. What is ultimately lost is the overall good of the nation. What is gained is gained only for a very small minority or two. As more and more coalitions are constructed, everybody eventually loses as the nation is rendered ineffective.

This is essentially what is happening in the United States, and we are living through its conclusion. There is a euphemism for this coalition building. It is called "political bargaining." That does not sound so bad. It often goes on in those well-known smoke-filled rooms. In politics, this is considered a fair game, largely on the basis that everybody is doing it. Indeed, almost everybody is doing it.

Everybody indeed might be doing it, but that does not mean that those deals are moral. It does not mean that they are in the best interest of the country. The reality is that these deals are made on what amounts to nothing more than bribes to sweeten things for the person being bribed, and the bribe is often wrapped around a threat.

Listen to this headline. This is really recent. Listen to this headline from It is about Wikileaks, and what appeared in one of these leaks. Here is the headline from that article: "Wikileaks Cable Reveals US Conspired to Retaliate Against European Nations If They Resisted GMOs." You know what GMOs are—genetically modified organisms. I am gonna call them "non foods." Well, after that headline, the story reports how US Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton—so we know who the author of this quote that I am going to give you in a minute; this is under the Bush administration—was pushing Monsanto to force their GMOs into the European Union. Do you get that? "Force." The Europeans were resisting accepting them.

Here is exactly what Stapleton said:

Europe is moving backwards, not forwards on this issue, with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the European Commission. . . . Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real cost to the European Union interest and could help strengthen European biotech voice.

The bribe is, "This could help strengthen European biotech voice." The threat is, "If you don't go along with this, you will pay a price. We will retaliate. The memo goes on:

Country Team Paris [which was what the Americans were calling this operation] recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU, since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses on the part of the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather then vicious [in other words, "Let's control this."], and must be sustainable over the long terms, since we should not expect an early victory.

This was a business war. Do you get the picture? This was a business war, led by the United States' ambassador to France, in behalf of an American corporation. They were going to force their products into Europe regardless. This particular wheeling and dealing was not entered into to set up a coalition, but it does show very clearly one side of the bargaining beginning. We do not have Europe's reply, but I am sure they came back with their own kind of deal.

Exodus 23:8 clearly makes this statement regarding bribes:

Exodus 23:8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts dangling from that command. It is very clear. No bribes, whatever. It is clear as a bell in God's intent, but Solomon says something later in Proverbs that reveals both his cynicism and his sarcasm. By this I do not mean that Solomon was against God in what he said, but rather he reveals what a jaded society does regardless of what God says:

Proverbs 17:8 A present is a precious stone in the eyes of its possessor; wherever he turns, he prospers.

Now the NIV translates the same verse in this way:

Proverbs 17:8 (New International Version) A bribe is seen as a charm [You know what a charm is? A talisman. That is something that works in your behalf, magically] by the one who gives it [that is the briber]; they think success will come at every turn.

What is Solomon saying? Solomon admits that bribes work in the real world, if I can put it that way.

The Soncino, the Jewish commentary, says this. They admit that the phrase in there "wherever he turns" is difficult. The reason is because it can be applied either to the giver of the bribe or the taker of the bribe. Take your pick. It works for both, is what the Soncino is saying, from Solomon's point of view. So, the Soncino concludes that the proverb may indeed be sarcasm on Solomon's part, because in the carnal world the bribe often appears successful for both. Both sides of the coalition stand to gain. In other words, though it is expressly forbidden by God on the surface, it works, and that is why people so readily use it.

But—and this is a very big "but"; no pun intended—every sin (and to offer or to take a bribe is sin; either side) is subject to the law of unintended consequences. The consequence may not appear immediately, but it will come. It will happen. The consequences of Adam's and Eve's sins did not appear immediately, but die they did, and along the way they produced the culture that produced the Flood. When they sinned, did they ever think of a flood? Never. That is what I mean by the law of unintended consequences. Sin always has a payment, and when people offer a bribe or take a bribe, they think they are getting away with something. "It's a good deal for both. Everybody profits."

By this time, everybody must know what earmarks are (we are bringing this back to the present). That term, too, is a euphemism. It used to be called "pork." That is a little more blunt. Earmarks are attachments to legislation that appears to have every chance of passing. That just happened this week, where that food bill was attached surreptitiously to another bill, even though the food bill had just been turned down. They managed to attach it to a bill that they thought would pass, and it did. So the food bill got got passed, too, surreptitiously.

But earmarks have absolutely nothing to do with the legislation that they are attached to. But those earmarks are a very popular way for representatives and senators to bribe their constituency to vote for them—here comes the vote again—in the next election, and it works very well. The earmarks are saying to the electorate, "Look how good I am. Look what I have done for my district," and it works. Do you know an incumbent hardly is ever voted out of office? What happened in this recent election, where so many Republicans were voted in and Democrats out, was very unusual.

Now, this is why we cannot get rid of Congress' big spenders. But the unintended reality is that these things, used by 100 senators and 435 representatives, each one of them attaching billions of dollars in expenditures, are playing a major role in driving the United States into bankruptcy. They make these little deals, and they get re-elected.