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Friday, February 17, 2012

When is a Bribe not a Bribe? When it's Fear Mongering

I might be the only person in America that is upset by this, but I don't think American democracy was originally intended to be this way. Now that it appears the Congress will be voting on the payroll tax holiday extension today, I think this is an appropriate time to discuss this topic.

Recently on Twitter, the Obama and White House pages ran what it called the "$40 dollars campaign." It gained popularity under the hashtag #40dollars. See these screenshots:

I had to read it a couple times: "What would $40 LESS a paycheck mean to you?" Is this a threat?

The White House Twitter page put up this question and people would respond with things like, "it would mean one less tank of gas," or "less vegetables in our weekly trip to the grocery store" and then the White House page would re-tweet this to everyone. 

Why does this upset me? This came from our president and the White House. This is not how democracy works. 

When I saw the Twitter feeds above I pictured people standing below a monarch with their hands out. The monarch is standing on a balcony asking these subjects what they would do if he removed a few coins from their pay (yes, I know Obama doesn't directly give tax cuts, nor does he take them away), and the loyal subjects beg and plead for him not to while pledging their allegiance to the king. How is this any different from the screen shots above? Instead of a balcony, the White House is shouting this through Twitter. Instead of shouting praise back up to the king on his balcony, the subjects are tweeting their answers back (many of the responses that said "it would mean an extra tank of gas" also included "thank you so much Mr. President" and praises of the like). To me, this is absolutely disgusting. I'm not cold and heartless to the hardships of Americans; this disgusts me because of how the Obama is now campaigning. 

This isn't the first time he has done this, by the way:

People might say, "what is so bad about this?" Seriously!? First, it's an election year. Barack Obama is fighting to get reelected. Is it appropriate for the leader of our country to offer cash for votes? Sure, it doesn't explicitly say, "if you vote for me, I will give you $40 per paycheck" - that would be a bribe... but mass communicating "what would you do.... how would you squirm if you had $40 per paycheck taken from you?" Come on! This is a fear-mongering proposition, is it not?

Secondly, this is about power. We now have a president who is using scare tactics to garner votes. This is a scary way to control people to stay in power. Does anyone really think people who are in need will vote against the hand that feeds them? Do you think someone who has a tight gas budget each month will vote against the president when the president pledges to be the one that prevents their gas budget from increasing? Do you think someone who pays virtually little to no taxes will vote against a president that says he will keep their taxes the way they are while making the rich pay for them? Absolutely not. 

The power in the White House, to me, is scary. We have already seen examples of how the president pushes for discriminatory measures that help some and not others (auto bailouts, but no bailouts for Kodak or American Airlines is an example). Now the president makes it appear like he is directly saving people from further financial hardship. Does he really think these people won't vote for him? Of course not. He absolutely knows that he can grab some votes with this type of campaign. Again, he isn't directly saying, "if you vote for me, I will give you $40" but he is a smart guy. He knows how to work it. He made grandiose promises of fixing the economy in 4 years and reducing the unemployment rate to below 8% by the end of 2010 and we all fell for it. He promised to halve the yearly deficit in four years and we fell for that, too. This is just the same gig. It is the same "I promise this, and I promise that." It's campaign 2.0, but this time, it employs some serious fear mongering. Is democracy supposed to be a system where the biggest promise maker holds the power? I would rather have the president directly come out and say, "yes, vote for me... I will flat out give you money!" At least it would be right in our faces where we could smell it. 

To me, this is a complete perversion of democracy. I can't imagine our Founding Fathers tried to set up a government by the people and for the people where a person can get elected by promising the voters more money in their paychecks. Though I and this blog do not yet endorse any one GOP candidate, and I think all the candidates are good, Constitution-loving conservatives, I would really like to hear a Ron Paul supporter's take on this. 

Please share your opinions below. Thank you. 


  1. So you are upset about the president not bribing people. You say he isn't promising money for votes. What are you upset about?

    1. Anonymous - thank you for the comment.

      I'm not sure how the position here isn't clear. Yes, he isn't explicitly bribing people, but he is using the lure of financial gain/loss to get people to respond. By saying, "what would $40 less per paycheck mean to you" implies something bad might happen if you don't vote for Obama. This is more direct than saying "if you don't vote for me, those republicans are bad guys and can mess things up.

    2. Please ignore anonymous, LME. He is a simple-minded dolt.

  2. Not our government's slaveFebruary 17, 2012 at 6:18 AM

    Holy shit this is good.

  3. Good morning LME,

    I can't say I agree with your assessment. This is all just part of how the game of politics works to me.

    The use of twitter/social networks is common on both sides now, and needless to say is here to stay. In fact I don’t think there is a single Congressman/woman that doesn’t have public social network handles. It is by far the most effective way to reach out and communicate to the populous, for better or worse.

    As far as the use of it, I have no doubts at all that if this was instead Bush in office, and Democrats were strongly opposing and obstructing Bush's tax rebate 'financial stimulus', Bush and the Republicans would be just as likely to try to paint Democrats as if they're holding money from the public in partisan politics. And just as easily try to say "what would an additional $1000 in your tax refund do for you?" in an attempt to rally opposition against Democrats.

    Both sides do it, and its part of the political game.

    It is especially the case now because Congress has made themselves an easy scapegoat, and I think you also have to keep that in mind here. Out of context this looks a lot worse than it really is, because in reality this is part of the continuing attack on the partisan politics of our Congress over the past year. To ask people who are concerned with losing $40/paycheck to speak up and contact their elected officials over their concerns is no different from the GOP calls to contact their congressman asking ‘where are the jobs!’

    For the record though, I don’t agree with any of these partisan actions. But at the same time I just don’t agree with blaming one side anymore than the other; or focusing anymore on blaming than need be (there’s far too much of it as is).

    Our Congress, and our three branches of government, should be working together and compromising where need be, with more focus on making (and keeping) America great than making the other guys look bad. But, it isn’t; especially lately.

    1. Good morning and Happy Friday!

      That's fine to not agree... of course, as you probably expected, I respectfully disagree with your take too :-)

      Yes, it's the game. Does that make it right? Using social media is common, but, if Obama Tweeted, "if you vote for me, I will personally give you $40 dollars" would it be any different? He can't do that, so he does something like he did above. To me, there is no difference.

      If Bush did that, then that is also an absolutely terrible proposition, too. Because it's the game, because it happens on both sides doesn't make it right. Like I said, I don't think our Founding Fathers wanted a system where people get elected by making indirect promises.

      I don't think we should be perverting democracy with promises or threats of financial gain or loss (whether it's broadcast on social media, Facebook, the news, etc) because it's convenient, or because everyone is doing it.

      As for your last statement, yes... it is about compromise, and unfortunately, that has been lost by both sides. Compromise is, you have demands, I have demands, we both don't get 100% of what we want, so we agree to each get 50% of what we want. For both the democrats and the republicans, it seems they are each bargaining on "you give us what we want only." (Obama/Reid has said numerous pieces of legislation were "dead on arrival" - where is the compromise in that... not even looking at what the other side has to say, and the Republicans have done the same). It's a give and take, again, something like "ok, we will agree to this for you, if you agree to this for us." That have been thrown out the window for a while.

      But that's for another debate :-)

    2. Happy Friday to you too!

      Just to clarify again, none of what I said was meant to justify it in any way, but more just to bring light to the fact that both sides do it. If I had the time, I could find plenty of morally controversial statements by both Dems and Republicans (particularly when it comes to fear mongering). I just don't think this is at all exclusive to Obama; and again reiterate this is just part of politics.

      I personally find the whole ‘I promise 2% gas!’ to be just as (if not even more) aggravating as ‘I promise $40 extra in each check!’; and the first of which is even incredibly misleading considering how little power the President (or even our entire government) has on our gas prices… short of subsidizing them or starting more wars (both are off the table).

    3. RKen - Got it... though I did understand what you meant :-)

      See, this is what good debate looks like... you make a counter-point (both sides do it... which I did agree to), and you backed it with an example (gas prices). It's a valid point, I agree with it, and both sides do it, and I don't like it one bit. I cited an example below while discussing it with Tater, too.

      Another good point you made, which, in my opinion, kind of backs what I said... is that yes, the president has very little power. To back what I said, it's very misleading for him to make any promises like this knowing he has little power to actually execute them. To me, that just shows it's about getting votes.

  4. A politician suggesting that a policy they support is beneficial to people? I can't imagine that ever happening before, and I'm sure none of the Republican candidates have suggested that people would be better off if they were president.

    In my opinion, a post this hyperbolic goes a long way to undermine any credibility you might have had as being interested in an actual discussion of issues.

    1. Tater, thank you for your opinion.

      Politicians make promises of benefits to people all the time. But I ask... is it okay to make a threat? Do you not see the line of "What would $40 LESS a paycheck mean to you?" as somewhat of a threat.

      Also, I never said republicans never did it... but why divert away? My case was that I did not like how Obama is doing it. I wrote about it, and said nothing about the GOP. I want to address the issue of putting it on Twitter and broadcasting this, and that's what I did.

      I also don't see this as hyperbolic at all. Would you rather have Obama just say "vote for me and I will directly give you $40?" How is this different? I'm sorry, I can't sit by while politicians get elected and hold power by doing things like you see above. If you had two candidates, one that had whatever positions he had, and one that said "if you vote for me, I will make you all rich, we will be fine, you will all get money" - who do you think people would vote for? Sure, intelligent people would see through this kind of campaign, as I would, but many people are simple-minded.

      As far as credibility, I don't see that being a problem. This, to me, is an issue. The highlight "issue" of 2012 is a campaign. The opinions you have are all yours and we welcome them, but, in my opinion, how people campaign is an issue, and, like you see here, we start the debate and have a forum to exchange ideas. Again, I can't just sit by while posts are made on Twitter by the president that are promising the prevention of financial hardship for a vote... to me, that's bad politics, and we should elect officials based on the best promise maker. It's even sleazier, in my opinion, to have people write back and then post their responses for the whole world to see.

      Thank you for your post, sir. We might disagree, but your opinions are always welcome.

  5. "When I saw the Twitter feeds above I pictured people standing below a monarch with their hands out. The monarch is standing on a balcony asking these subjects what they would do if he removed a few coins from their pay (yes, I know Obama doesn't directly give tax cuts, nor does he take them away), and the loyal subjects beg and plead for him not to while pledging their allegiance to the king." Not hyperbolic?

    Also, no, I don't see "what would $40 LESS a paycheck mean to you?" as a threat. I see it as asking people to think about one aspect of how a policy decision would impact them. Is it a leading question? Yes. Does it encourage people to think about all aspects of the issue? No.

    Would you see "What would $40 dollars less a paycheck mean to the financial solvency of social security?" as a threat?

    1. Tater - Thanks for writing back.

      I don't see it as hyperbolic... it's relative imagery. I even pointed out how it is relative: " Instead of a balcony, the White House is shouting this through Twitter. Instead of shouting praise back up to the king on his balcony, the subjects are tweeting their answers back (many of the responses that said "it would mean an extra tank of gas" also included "thank you so much Mr. President" and praises of the like)." This is relative imagery because I point out the direct relation to the factual occurrences that happened. If I had said "if you get $40 taken from your paycheck you will get sick and die and not have enough money to pay your copays and the government will seize your house" - I could see that as hyperbolic. It's your opinion to it, and your right to express it. I just respectfully disagree with your assessment, just as you disagree with my assessment of "what would $40 LESS a paycheck mean to you."

      I do agree that this would lead people to think of a policy decision... but I think the intent is to get those people to think about it AND vote for that person, and, if that's the intent... to me, that's not how democracy should work.

      To the final statement... yes. To me, that's the same thing.

  6. You don't think that democracy should work by people voting for candidates who will do things they want to be done? Or you don't think that a candidate should explain the benefits of their positions to people making a decision on who to vote for? I'm really intrigued as to how you think democracy should work.

    Also, it there any way you can suggest to explain possible negative repercussions of an action without being threatening?

    1. Tater - To me, this "You don't think that democracy should work by people voting for candidates who will do things they want to be done?" isn't how it was meant to be... Again, I ask... how is it not a bribe?

      If the owner of a plot of land comes to a Congressman and says, "here is a briefcase full of money, vote on this legislation that helps me out" how is that different from "here is $40 bucks in your paycheck, vote for me" or "if you vote for me, I will give you XXXXX benefit." Mitt Romney called out Newt Gingrich's positions on "you will do this for SC and this for NH and this for FL"... and I totally agree. It seemed Gingrich was just putting forth specific, locally-based propositions to grab the votes of that specific state.

      To me, without getting into a keen side debate about how democracy should work, is that politicians should not have the kind of direct position like Obama expressed on Twitter and Facebook. Well, first, I don't believe in any kind of government sponsored discrimination ever. I don't agree with, "we should tax the rich more or cut the poor's taxes more." I believe in cutting all taxes or none. That being said, I don't believe it's right for a politician (especially one that is campaigning) to make a promise of any kind.

      Let me try to explain this with an example. If I was running for office, and unemployment was at 12.0%, I don't think it would be ethical of me to say "for all those unemployed people out there, I will get you a job so you can have a paycheck." In relation, Obama's case, though not directly, targets poorer Americans. It targets no one individually, just as my example did not do, but it targets a voting group... just as mine did. In my example, I target a large voting block and didn't say what job or anything of the like, I just simply said "I will get you a job." To me, that is saying anything to garner votes.

      My way of handling it would be, "my positions form my policies, and my positions are that (just an example) corporate taxes are too high. I want to reduce these to remove the overhead burden from employers so they might have the incentive to hire again." That's not me promising anything direct, it's not targeting one group of people (employers can hire anyone, not just the unemployed), it allows my policies to create the action, instead of the implication that somehow, I would be responsible for someone getting a job. To me, the $40 campaign, though it doesn't explicitly say it, infers that voting for Obama will get you cash... I have a problem with that.

      Thank you for the debate... Hope to keep it going.

  7. If you think that saying that there will be a positive benefit for voting for someone is a bribe, then I guess that's how you feel. In my opinion, it lowers the bar on what is bribery to a point where bribe is a meaningless word.

    In saying "I want to reduce these to remove the overhead burden from employers so they might have the incentive to hire again" the implication is that if you don't remove the overhead burden, employers won't have the incentive to hire again. How is that any less threatening? How is that not targeting one group of people (an employer isn't going to hire themself)?

  8. Allow me to offer some extremely important opinions

    I think you both have very good points here, and I'm glad I stopped by because I now can see it both ways. Thanks.

  9. I see I'm late to the party again... : ) That said, our Founding Fathers had some thoughts on this stuff. Perhaps they could see into the future.

    If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare... they may appoint teachers in every state... The powers of Congress would subvert the very foundation, the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America.
    - James Madison

    "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." Benjamin Franklin

    Thomas Jefferson: The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

    To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

    Alexander Hamilton: If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare… The powers of Congress would subvert the very foundation, the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America.

    "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the Tranquility of servitude better than the
    Animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or
    arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon
    you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
    ~ Samuel Adams, speech at the
    Philadelphia State House, August 1, 1776

    And this: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington

    1. Were James Madison and Alexander Hamilton speaking at the same time? That would be kind of cool, since they were saying the same thing.

    2. Dara, Usually I like what you have to say, but I have to admit, I'm not sure what the connection is here. Yes, our Founding Fathers had inputs about how to run the country and the general welfare of things, but this article is about how politicians are just making promises to get elected. I'm not sure how a bunch of random quotes is related.

  10. Fear Mongering.

    Hmmmm, I wonder what the current leader of the GOP (Bush) would say about Fear Mongering....

    Hmmmmmmmm,......Terror Alert "Code Red"

    1. Hmmmmmmmmmm - a typical lib? Talk about Bush when It's completely irrelevant, and the color-based terror threat system is > 10 years old. Do you have anything intelligent to add here? Can you contribute a relevant opinion to this forum? Don't turn this to CNN blogs.

  11. It is a bribe. Everyting obama does is a bribe. Vote for me and I will give you 40 dollars. Vote for me and I will save GM. Vote for me and I will put money into green projects. It all sounds great, except the taxpayer gets the bill.

  12. For those that are saying this isn't a bribe - let's slow it down.

    Obama: Vote for me and my party in November, you will get $40 more per paycheck.

    Is that slow enough for you? How is that not a bribe?

  13. Find something worthwhile to do rather than making up idiotic accusations toward our some respect. A bribe? Get a life!

    1. Again, another (as a previous reader said) I drive by comment. Let's see if we can break this down for you...

      We at this blog take positions. Unlike many people (and many we believe we see on the left) like to make statements without giving the reason why they believe those statements. We do.

      We believe that Obama using a $40 per paycheck after tax bump is a bribe. We give our reasons above. You don't have to believe it... but we do give our views as to why we feel how we do.

      Your case seems to be: make a one line, unbacked, factless statement and leave. Obviously, you don't believe what we do... but the difference is: we back why we do, you don't. Maybe, just maybe, you could help us see why you think our position is wrong. Maybe, just maybe, you could help us understand your views. But, as is the problem with the polarizing politics now, you stop by, give a statement, no facts, no evidence, no position, no platform, no backing, and full of insults. What good does that do.

      So, in short. We think Obama is using this as a bribe. If you can't shoot it down intelligently; good for you. But it doesn't help your case. Want to try again?

    2. *** A Drive-by comment