The Stolen Goods Auction Heats Up

“[G]overnment is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.” —H.L. Mencken

Ahhhh. It’s been a minute—not a New York one, but more Dubois, Wyoming—since I quoted the Bard of Baltimore in a column. Feels right. Especially for the forthcoming rumination.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as Andy might sing, for politicos: midterm season! With congresspeople glad handing, and the hustings overflowing, all of Washington is of good cheeeeeeeer.

Our biennial federal elections don’t have a presidential contest this fall, which would otherwise suck up all the media attention and donor dollars. Instead, the congressional contests will be seen as a report card on the current chief exec., who, if polls are to be believed (Can you really trust them after 2016, though?), will flunk mightily. The last time Joe Biden took home a report card, math was still called “arithmetic” and Chester A. Arthur was nailing the “No Chinamen Welcome” sign up at the Port of San Fran. But I digress.

A Democrat shellacking is expected. And if inflation continues to circumscribe summer vacation options to the closest public swimming hole instead of Disney World, we could see a red wave larger than the one at the end of “Deep Impact,” with a shaking, confused president engulfed while tightly hugging his hopped-up son.

All this political parlor theorizing makes great grist for roundtable-babble shows. It’s also a great opportunity for both major parties to test-message policies in anticipation of the real silver tuna: the White House ballot battle royale in 2024.

Democrats are maniacally but futilely paddling against the current of a teetering economy. The Excel nerds at the Bureau of Economic Analysis say the economy “shrank” during the first quarter of this year, which is a misnomer for consumers not consuming enough stuff because the value of their dollars are shriveling up faster than a male nodule submerged in the Arctic. Econometric gobbledygook aside, price hikes and a general feeling of market malaise have Democrats fearing a rout. So how are they countering an ineluctable electoral force? By sticking with their tried-and-true blue bribery!

The Washington Post’s James Hohmann reports that the White House is taking pointers from the current-don’t-you-dare-say-she’s-not-unless-you’re-racist governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams. Amidst her busy schedule of running the Peach State in her head, Abrams is consulting the West Wing on how to energize an apathetic base. Her solution: a massive college hock write-off.

The managerial-class bailout would certainly sit well with loyal Democratic voters like lawyers and think-tankers. But the floated amount of ten grand-a-head is a pittance when dropped into the gaping hole of $2 trillion in outstanding student loans. So why bother? Hohmann paraphrases Abrams’s advice to Biden: “This isn’t about persuading people in the middle, it’s about getting the base to turn out. And the base isn’t going to turn out if they don’t do this, and that they have all sorts of stats about how a lot of graduates from [historically black colleges and universities] have all this debt.”

Now, I’m not James Carville, or Dick Morris, or Steve Bannon, or Karl Rove, or Lee Atwater. But if your advice to an unpopular incumbent president is to disregard the mortgage-holding, tax-paying middle class and appeal to Bernie-or-bust progs, you should be laughed out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. then hogtied and trebucheted beyond the Beltway. Instead, Abrams is being heeded despite Biden advisors knowing they’re signing their own death warrant. Hohmann continues: “And so there are a lot of people very close to the president who privately understand that this is a complete disaster for them.”

Political payola works under the same principle as participation trophies: everyone has to feel included. That’s why Republicans, who preach self-reliance over the dole, are doing their vote-buying on the hush-hush. The American Prospect reports the Republican National Committee is really taking that whole working-class realignment thing seriously by tearing a page out of the Democratic playbook. Not Obama’s playbook, mind you, but Tammany Hall. The Republican national arm is opening community centers in poor urban counties. But these GOTV hubs aren’t masochistic exercises in pretend minority outreach. They’re courting voters, one buy at a time: “The centers beckon potential voters with everything from movie nights to free dinners to holiday parties to gun safety trainings, thrown by local organizers and paid for by your friends at the RNC, which has dedicated millions of dollars to the program.”

The genius part is, Republicans are throwing red block parties without broadcasting it to national media. The centers aren’t on journalists’ “primary base of operations” known as Twitter. Nor are they on Instagram, where millennials press sleuths take a break from twitting by posting pictures of their $25 avocado toast. Outreach activity is noticed only where reporters fear to tread: Facebook. The internet footprint is deliberately kept small. That way, other constituencies don’t get the FOMO fussies.

Republicans bothering to court traditionally averse voters shows their confidence that the must-have suburban cores are already locked-in red. Like the Democrats’ credentialist buyout, this is a test campaign for the 2024 races.

The great bribery is well underway. At least the Libertarian Party just experienced a coup by the plumb-line Mises Caucus, which stands polar opposite to spend-and-buy politicking. But Americans have been used to having their vote purchased at a price since John Adams barely bested Thomas Jefferson. We want a price tag on our ballot—the higher the better! The libertarians managed to half their vote total in 2020 compared to 2016 by running a soft-spoken kindly moderate. If the LP runs a Rothbardian in ‘24, another halving may be in order.

The price of political principle is paid in position. (That sounds more Noel Coward than Mencken.) You either pay out or find yourself alone and shaking your fist from without.

Don’t bother stocking up on Coppertone this summer. With all the palm grease being lathered around, you’ll be covered in SPF 100 until November.

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Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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