When Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI on charges of corruption, he was allegedly seeking to sell Barack Obama’s soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat. Although the Constitution requires that special elections be held in the case of a vacant House of Representatives seat, it vests the power of appointing fill-in senators to the governor of the given state. Unfortunately for Blagojevich, there are federal laws prohibiting the outright sale of these gubernatorial tickets to D.C.
The response to Blagojevich’s arrest was universal shock and dismay—or feigned versions thereof. After all, is it really that surprising that a politician would put his own self interests ahead of his constituents’? Isn’t that what congressmen and senators do every day in Washington? In fact, there’s a case to be made that Blagojevich is truly a rare breed: an honest politician.
The Sad Reality
FBI tapes allegedly catch Blagojevich saying how “valuable” a U.S. Senate seat is. A senator has more resources available to him than even a large-state governor, Blagojevich said, and if someone didn’t want to give him something “of value” in exchange for the appointment, he was going to just take it for himself.
In response to these caught-on-tape comments, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said this was a “sad day for government.” Sad, indeed, for the true believers in civics-class propaganda, for the true nature of the state was exposed. Now they’ll be quick to “make an example” of Blagojevich and return to business as usual: doing exactly what he was trying to do, just more covertly.
Why Are Senate Seats so Valuable?
But why is a U.S. Senate seat so “valuable?” Senators are paid $169,300 a year, but this is not the “value” to which Blagojevich was referring. No, the true “value” of a senate seat is measured in the millions—maybe tens or even hundreds of millions—of dollars; and that’s because senators routinely engage in the selling of favors. They call it something else, of course, but make no mistake about it: extortion and receiving bribes are a senator’s primary activities.
Remember how the $700 billion bailout was defeated in the House of Representatives only to be passed, overwhelmingly, by the Senate just a few days later? Why is it that congressmen were so much more willing to listen to the will of the people than U.S. Senators were? Could it be because senators’ statewide campaigns attract bigger money that has to be repaid in the form of votes? Only by bribing a senator can a few thousand dollars be turned into millions—after all, the Senate isn’t spending its own money…it’s spending yours!
Is What Blagojevich (Allegedly) Did Really That Bad?
So we’ve established that the mock horror at Blagojevich’s indiscretion is unwarranted. His only “crime” was being blasé about the true nature of government. In fact, maybe it would be better if politicians were, like Blagojevich, more out in the open with their buying and selling of favors.
In his classic book, Democracy: The God That Failed, Austrian economist Hans Herman Hoppe makes the case that monarchy is a better form of government than democracy. Although Professor Hoppe himself is an anarcho-capitalist, he sees monarchy as preferable to democracy because kings took pride in the “ownership” of their countries. Since they were able to pass on their kingdoms to their heirs, they didn’t loot as aggressively as democratic rulers—who, by comparison, “rent” their kingdoms—do today. Blagojevich was simply trying to collect a rental fee.
Just a Symptom of a Greater Illness
“This conduct would make [Abraham] Lincoln roll in his grave.” That was another whopper from Attorney Fitzgerald. Lincoln, of course, was a corporate lawyer who believed strongly in Henry Clay’s “American System” of central banking, protective tariffs, and corporate welfare—the system of looting that now makes senate seats so valuable. And it was Lincoln’s invasion of the South that led to the abolition of state sovereignty, a fait accompli with the passage of the 17th Amendment, which ushered in the direct election of U.S. Senators. I hardly think “Honest” Abe—who illegally suspended habeas corpus, jailed Northern dissidents, shut down opposition newspapers, and unconstitutionally assessed an income tax and printed the nation’s first fiat money to fund his war—would be half as outraged as the modern punditocracy pretends to be.
Indeed, in all of the feigned horror misses the point: U.S. Senate seats are too valuable. The way to fight corruption is to make them less valuable, and the way to do that is to take power from the federal government and give it back to the states and the people. A good start would be the repeal of the 17th amendment, which would return the election of senators to the state legislatures. This way, senatorial candidates would serve in their original role as “ambassadors of the states,” and would be looking out for state interests, not always seeking to expand federal power (and thus, bribery income). Blagojevich is a corrupt politician, to be certain, but his corruption is just a symptom of the larger problem: an unconstitutional and overreaching federal government.
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