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this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
Marshals:
  • Campbell Ritchie
  • Paul Clapham
  • Ron McLeod
  • Bear Bibeault
  • Liutauras Vilda
Sheriffs:
  • Jeanne Boyarsky
  • Junilu Lacar
  • Henry Wong
Saloon Keepers:
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  • Stephan van Hulst
  • Jj Roberts
  • Tim Holloway
  • Piet Souris
Bartenders:
  • Himai Minh
  • Carey Brown
  • salvin francis

Introducing... well, me.

 
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I'm one of the new moderators here at RP, along with Bear Bibeault and Campbell Ritchie. I asked for this job because of my personal fascination with politics, but also because I am (or have been) an actual politician. I was elected, in 2007, to a four-year term on the Loudoun County, Virginia, USA, board of supervisors. In 2009, I ran for the Virginia state legislature, but only managed to come in second. My wife ran for the legislature in 2013 (also second), and is running this year, 2015, for the legislature again.

Being a politician does not make one an expert on politics, but it does give one a personal perspective that might be valuable. For example, whenever anyone says something like, "All politicians are corrupt," or "They're all in it for the power," count on me to say that I know, personally, that those statements are incorrect. (On those points, it might be more accurate to say that politicians generally are more or less like everyone else, which means that some are heroes, some are fools, some are angels, and some are world-class shmucks.)

Being a county supervisor was a huge amount of fun, while also humbling. It gives you a whole new feeling about what it means to get up in the morning, when you know that 320,000 people are hoping you can make it through another day without mucking up their lives. Further, it was an amazingly educational experience I couldn't have bought at any price.

I love spirited, informed (or, alternatively, questioning) debate. Hoping to have some here.

Stevens
 
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hi Stevens Miller,

I hope you thoroughly enjoy your new function of bartender here, and I hope
you will have many rattlesnake pits!

A personal question if you allow me. I usually start my replies with 'hi <first name>'.
Is your first name 'Stevens'? Or is it a double last name?

<attempToBeFunny>
All politicians lie. If I may quote you:

For example, whenever anyone says something like, "All politicians are corrupt," or
"They're all in it for the power," count on me to say that I know, personally, that
those statements are incorrect.



Are you speaking truth here?
</attempToBeFunny>

Greetz,
Piet
 
Stevens Miller
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Piet Souris wrote:Is your first name 'Stevens'? Or is it a double last name?


It is my first name. My father's name was "Rupert Stevens Miller." Apparently, one of his ancestors' family name was "Stevens." My parents wanted to name me after him, but (thank God) decided that two people with the same name in one house would be confusing. So, they simply swapped my dad's first and middle names, so they became my middle and first names. So, "Stevens" worked its way up from last, to middle, to being a first name. Since I am a lawyer, I rather like the fact that my business is called, "Law Office of Stevens Miller." Makes it sound like I'm in a partnership, eh?

For example, whenever anyone says something like, "All politicians are corrupt," or
"They're all in it for the power," count on me to say that I know, personally, that
those statements are incorrect.



Are you speaking truth here?



Well, here's where I can apply some logic that Java programmers can appreciate: when a person says, "All people of class P are also members of class L," we know they can't be sure of that unless P is so small they can have examined each member of P to be sure they are each in L. When speaking of politicians, there are just too many of them, so any such generalization is, at best, a guess. On the other hand, when I say, "Not all people of class P are also members of class L," and I am a member of class P myself, and I know that I am not a member of class L, then I know that my statement is true, and I'm not guessing at anything.

Now, I know that I'm not in L, but others might not be willing to take my word for it. Fair enough. But I do note that folks who are originally quick to say, "All politicians are liars" (or "crooks," or "corrupt," or whatever) will often walk that back when they learn they are speaking directly to one, and that there is no reason to make that claim about him (me, that is) in particular. And that's all I really want from anyone, that they reserve judgment about politicians until they can make those judgments on both an individual and informed basis.

Despite being close to the bottom of the political class structure for elected officials, I met quite a few at almost every level, during my term. I met the governor of Virginia (who kindly sat with my seven-year-old son for a while, and chatted with him). I've met several US Senators (including one who is now the Vice President). I am a friend of our current Virginia Attorney General, whom I think will probably be our next governor. I got to meet the (unofficial, since we don't have formal relations with them ) ambassador to the United States from Taiwan (worked an international agreement with him, between my county and New Taipei City, too), the prince-consort of Denmark, quite a few members of the United States House of Representatives, and more state legislators than you can count. What I can report from all those encounters is that, pretty much from top to bottom, elected officials are just ordinary folks who, for all the many different reasons that ordinary folks might ever want to do it, wanted to run for public office. Some might say that merely wanting to run is proof of some kind of character defect, but that's just naïve, and, in my opinion, childish. There are thousands of elected officials in the world. Their motives and characters are as varied as those of the population they are sampled from.

So, yeah. I'm speaking the truth. Trust me, I'm a politician.
 
Stevens Miller
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Oh, yeah, before anyone (Campbell ) points it out, I know that the prince-consort of Denmark is not an elected official.

He had to apply to get that job.
 
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Stevens Miller wrote:It gives you a whole new feeling about what it means to get up in the morning, when you know that 320,000 people are hoping you can make it through another day without mucking up their lives.



I've found that the politicians who actually affect people's day-to-day existence -- those at the city and county level -- are reasonable people. As you say, there's nothing which focuses your attention better than a morning answering irate phone calls from people who can't get out of their driveways because your plan to replace the rusting water mains didn't include them properly. It's the politicians at the higher levels, the ones who think that "the economy" is their one and only job, who seem to have lost their way. More and more they seem to be acting as if their constituents were the corporations who support their campaigns financially, rather than the voters who put them into office.
 
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Stevens Miller wrote:...because of my personal fascination with politics



I recently came across this confession, which I found to be a rather pessimistic view of the author's profession. I asked in a different forum what motivated the author to stand for office if it was so bad. I got some replies, but since none of them were from the horse's mouth, I found them unsatisfactory.

You have now given me an opportunity to get a direct reply, so my question is: What exactly is it about politics that fascinates or motivates you in particular?

I'll explain the background behind my question.
I can understand fascination. I'm personally fascinated by computers and electronics, which is why I'm a programmer. But if fascination was enough, I'd be satisfied by just watching others program and create things. In reality, I get bored watching others program. Instead, I feel compelled to participate in the action myself. If asked to explain further, I might say it's the end goal of *creating* new things
that I find fascinating. So, there is a concrete outcome - an end goal - that fascinates me. The fact that I can achieve similar goals repeatedly over a lifetime motivates me even more.

On the other hand, I don't really understand what motivates a politician.
Is it an ability to manipulate society into doing what one wants?
Is it leadership?
Is it popularity?
Is it altruism?

Politics (along with policing and people management) is one profession I find difficult to understand, and I'd appreciate if you can explain what motivates you in particular.
 
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Stevens Miller wrote: . . . decided that two people with the same name in one house would be confusing. . . .

What's confusing? I was called after my father and my sister after my mother. So we had two pairs of people with the same name.
 
Stevens Miller
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Paul Clapham wrote:It's the politicians at the higher levels, the ones who think that "the economy" is their one and only job, who seem to have lost their way. More and more they seem to be acting as if their constituents were the corporations who support their campaigns financially, rather than the voters who put them into office.


Eric Cantor would appear to be an example of what you have in mind. (For non-USAens, Cantor was a member of the House of Representatives, and the #2 ranking member of its Republican majority. He got ousted by another Republican because--according to most commentators--he had cozied up too much to the financial industry and its Republican-friendly donors, while not doing enough to look after his Virginia constituents.) Since I prefer Democrats, I don't mind losing Cantor, but he got replaced by an even more right-wing individual (David Brat, who opposes using taxes to fund public education, among other things). But, Cantor's problem is not unique. As a party leader, his job included convincing donors to help his party, as a whole. At the same time, he most definitely had the job of looking after his district. They elected him, and they had a right to his attention. When he didn't give it to them, they used their right to elect someone else. From one point of view, that's the democratic system, working as it should. But, from another, it shows why serving a party and serving a constituency can create a conflict of interest. These days, I wouldn't say our senior electeds have lost their way, so much as I would say that our politics generally has become too polarized. A lot of that was done by the parties to themselves, as a result of our decennial redistricting. Every ten years, we redraw congressional district boundaries, so each district has the same number of citizens in it. The last time we did that, the districts were drawn in ways that made them each very right or very left, in their politics. That means it is very, very hard for moderates to get nominated to run in general elections. Cantor was no moderate, but it was his perceived failure to be sufficiently far right that made David Brat look like a superior choice to Republicans who participate in primary elections. Republican who participate in primaries are the rightmost of their party (and vice versa on the left).

The result of all this polarization is a deadlocked government. Unlike the UK, where the PM is chosen by the legislature, our chief executive is chosen by the states, each voting to cast its electoral college votes for one candidate or the other. Thus, we have a Democratic president, who has been made the personification of excessive government control by his critics, and a Republican majority in the legislature, which is viewed as favoring money over people, by its critics. Very little hope for compromise in that context. Any Republican who works with the president risks a primary challenge that will likely succeed.

That's all a rather mathematical analysis of our situation (and hardly original with me; read pretty much any credible political Web site and you'll see this is the mainstream American CW these days). You were talking more about the individuals. As a local elected, I can say that your point is spot-on: people used to call me up and talk directly to me about what I was doing wrong (or, here and there, not wrong) all the time. But, it might interest you to know that even at my low level, the extremism that we see at the top still came into play. For example, I supported a piece of local legislation called "The Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance" (CPBO). It was pretty controversial, but so are a lot of things. However, it became a target for a national-level anti-environmental group that looked to corporations for big donations. They tried to make me (and my colleagues who supported the CPBO) into poster children for their cause. I started getting hate mail from all over the United States. At one point, the organization used a "robo-calling" machine and called thousands of my constituents (I had about 80,000 at the time), telling them that I was trying to steal their property rights, that they would no longer be able to build a shed or a dog-house on their own land, and a whole bunch of alarming, untrue things. Then the machine told them to, "call Stevens Miller immediately at <my cellphone number>." This was on a Sunday, as it happened. So, the kind of extreme tactics you see at the top get used at every level, which may explain why the long-time politicians still use them when they reach those senior levels. It's just what they've gotten used to.

(Note: The robo-calling trick completely backfired. I got a few dozen calls, all from people who weren't sure why "I" had called them. Most were opposed to the CPBO when they called. All but one were convinced to support the CPBO before we ended the call, however. I actually wish that crazy national organization had done that every weekend. Would have helped me curry a lot more support.)
 
Stevens Miller
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Karthik Shiraly wrote:

Stevens Miller wrote:...because of my personal fascination with politics



I recently came across this confession, which I found to be a rather pessimistic view of the author's profession.


Actually, we don't know his (or her) profession. Some people make a lifetime career out of being in Congress, but most don't. Until you get to be in it (or become a state-level executive, like a governor), being an elected official doesn't pay enough to live on. I got $40,000/year for being a county supervisor. Members of the Virginia state legislature get about half of that. To reach Congress, then, you pretty much have to have a real profession. Alas, that tends to rule out a lot of people, like computer programmers, truck drivers, airline pilots, and others who can't weave the schedule of being an elected official into the schedule imposed on them by their employers. That tends to leave pretty much four classes of person who makes it to Congress: the wealthy, the retired, the spouses of the wealthy and retired, and lawyers. The first three don't need to work for a living, and the fourth usually works for a law firm that is delighted to say it has a member in the legislature of its state (remember, I am talking about what people do before reaching Congress; members of Congress get paid enough to live on, though it's not as sweet as it looks, since they almost all have to maintain two full-time homes, one in their district, and one in DC).

As for those nine "secrets," they are all pretty well established truths at this point. Yup, we do know, or have a pretty good guess, which way everyone will vote. In competitive races, the goal is not to persuade undecideds (well, we do put effort into that, it's just that there aren't that many undecideds to persuade). The goal is to get your supporters to actually go to the polls on election day and vote. A Democrat who says, "Sure, I support gay marriage, but what's the point in voting when big corporations control everything anyway?" is no good to me at all. But, one who says, "I have had it with big corporations controlling people's private lives! Where the hell do I go to vote?" is someone I need to talk to. (I would slightly disagree with the poster about committees: they do provide a useful forum with which to communicate with the public, via the hearing process.)

You have now given me an opportunity to get a direct reply, so my question is: What exactly is it about politics that fascinates or motivates you in particular?



Hubris, mostly. I looked at the people running my government and said, "I can do that. I can do that better than they are doing that." Mind you, I was a computer programmer at the time, and quickly realized that computer programmers never get elected to anything. I did a bit of reading (this was 1987, and my particular interest in politics was created by something called "The Iran Contra Affair"), and discovered that lawyers get elected to things. Well, I was just completing a master's degree in computer science at the time, so I thought, "If I can do this, how hard could law school be?" So, I took the LSAT, got a pretty good score, and that lead to being offered a scholarship from a law school with a night division, so, in 1988, I went to law school. Got my license in 1992. I didn't run for anything until 2007, but I never stopped thinking about it. In 2003, I got involved in local politics. The guy who won the county supervisor seat for my district in 2003 immediately started doing everything wrong, in my opinion. So, pretty much that year, I started campaigning. I used what is called a "stealth" campaign approach. I started by getting appointed to local advisory bodies, and joining some civic associations, so I could get educated on how the local situation worked. I made a lot of friends and, I think, did some good public service along the way. In 2006, I announced I would be running in 2007, to replace my current supervisor. Things went pretty well, though the campaign was a lot of work. We won, and so I got elected to something, just like I wanted to, back in 1987, twenty years earlier. (Funny thing was that I had practiced a bit of law in all those years, but was still making most of my living by being a self-employed computer programmer. The Washington Post endorsed me, but they described me as "a smart lawyer who deserves a chance." I have always wondered what effect it would have had if they had said I was "a tricky C programmer" instead.)

I can understand fascination. I'm personally fascinated by computers and electronics, which is why I'm a programmer. But if fascination was enough, I'd be satisfied by just watching others program and create things. In reality, I get bored watching others program. Instead, I feel compelled to participate in the action myself. If asked to explain further, I might say it's the end goal of *creating* new things
that I find fascinating. So, there is a concrete outcome - an end goal - that fascinates me. The fact that I can achieve similar goals repeatedly over a lifetime motivates me even more.



An important difference between coding and running (campaigns that is, not programs) is that coding is not inherently competitive. When you code, you code to achieve a solution to a problem. No one else has to have their efforts at doing the same thing defeated in order for you to succeed. In politics, you don't win an election unless somebody else loses. That kind of sucks because, unlike programming, this means that someone else is doing everything they can think of to stop you from winning (well, if you work for any of a number of companies that are headed by people with no idea how computers work, it may seem like they are trying to defeat your programming efforts, but I've been there, and it's not quite the same). Likewise, to run for office, you have to be ready to think in terms of beating the other guy, which is not how I approach writing a program. Note, however, that once you are elected, you need to be ready to work with other members of your elected body, even if they are from the other side, if they are willing to work with you in return. Your own party, especially those who might want to run against those people you are working with, can get pretty upset with you over that, which is a part of being an elected official most folks never see.

On the other hand, I don't really understand what motivates a politician.
Is it an ability to manipulate society into doing what one wants?
Is it leadership?
Is it popularity?
Is it altruism?



From what I've seen, it's all of those, in varying degrees. But, to be brutally honest, it's also fun in the way that some people tell me that professional sports are fun. Speaking for myself alone, I have never understood why anyone has the slightest interest in football, baseball, basketball, or any other sport they do not actually play themselves. I have enjoyed playing all those games, but I wouldn't spend one second of my life watching them being played by others. Yet, many people do enjoy watching sports. I have to imagine that, if they could, most of those people would want to be one of the players. Well, politics offers much of the same entertainment value to a spectator as sports do. You have "teams," and players, and "coaches," and strategies, and goals, and on and on. But, unlike professional sports, you, personally, can get into the game and play! Not everyone who plays does so as a candidate. Some become party officials. Others become policy analysts. Some participate in issue-advocacy. The list of ways to play is long. Politics is the process by which we run our nation(s). That's too important to leave to others, so I wanted to get into the game. But, as it happens, it's also fun. (I hate losing, so it's not like every day is a cause for celebration. Still, fighting the good fight is its own reward, too.)

Politics (along with policing and people management) is one profession I find difficult to understand, and I'd appreciate if you can explain what motivates you in particular.



Well, there's my lust for power and my craving for glory that probably have something to do with it. But, really, I just felt like some of the people elected to offices I could run for were doing a crummy job and, if I felt qualified to criticize them, I ought to be ready to prove I can do better myself. So, one day, I just did. (Mind you, not everyone said I was better than my predecessor. You have to get used to that. But I'm pleased with what I did, and that's what I was after all along, really.)
 
Karthik Shiraly
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Stevens, thanks for that refreshingly candid and illuminating reply!

Honestly, it had never occurred to me that politics could be fun and enjoyable for some people, just as programming is fun for me but likely not for many others.
Now that you've pointed it out, it seems ridiculously obvious and explains a lot.

I, being only a lifelong armchair critic, really admire your self-confidence on doing much better at governance.
Wishing you and your wife a very successful and satisfying election and tenure!

 
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Stevens Miller wrote:"All people of class P are also members of class L," we know they can't be sure of that unless P is so small they can have examined each member of P to be sure they are each in L.


The mathematician in me cringes at that statement. I have proved things are true for all whole numbers, even though I have not examined each and every one. Proof by induction allows you to get away with that.

Now...proof by induction may not be valid on a set of politicians, but it IS possible to prove some things without examining every single case.
 
Stevens Miller
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fred rosenberger wrote:

Stevens Miller wrote:"All people of class P are also members of class L," we know they can't be sure of that unless P is so small they can have examined each member of P to be sure they are each in L.


The mathematician in me cringes at that statement. I have proved things are true for all whole numbers, even though I have not examined each and every one. Proof by induction allows you to get away with that.

Now...proof by induction may not be valid on a set of politicians, but it IS possible to prove some things without examining every single case.


Fair point, but I was talking about people, not numbers (or other things that can be examined by methods applicable to classes, and not solely by inspection).

Induction tends to be inherently uncertain, though. For example, suppose we have the class of politicians, P. We sample some subset of the class, of size n, and, by inspection, we discover that a whole number f of those n are in L. Inductively, we can predict that any member of P has a probability f/n of being in L. But that's uncertain because a different sample of size n might yield a different number f of those n that are in L.

Now, deductive reasoning might be more applicable: 1)All politicians seek election to positions of power; 2)Anyone seeking a position of power is a threat to my liberty; 3)All politicians are a threat to my liberty. But that requires two known truths, and truths about whole classes of people can be elusive. (But not impossible to find: I accept that all racists are dangerous to freedom, for example.)

But, coming back to my first thought on this: any generalization to the effect that all politicians are liars is something I claim to disprove simply by the existence of a counter-example.
 
fred rosenberger
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Stevens Miller wrote:Fair point, but I was talking about people, not numbers (or other things that can be examined by methods applicable to classes, and not solely by inspection).

Induction tends to be inherently uncertain, though. For example, suppose we have the class of politicians, P. We sample some subset of the class, of size n, and, by inspection, we discover that a whole number f of those n are in L. Inductively, we can predict that any member of P has a probability f/n of being in L. But that's uncertain because a different sample of size n might yield a different number f of those n that are in L.

Now, deductive reasoning might be more applicable: 1)All politicians seek election to positions of power; 2)Anyone seeking a position of power is a threat to my liberty; 3)All politicians are a threat to my liberty. But that requires two known truths, and truths about whole classes of people can be elusive. (But not impossible to find: I accept that all racists are dangerous to freedom, for example.)

But, coming back to my first thought on this: any generalization to the effect that all politicians are liars is something I claim to disprove simply by the existence of a counter-example.


I was mostly having fun...

Re: comments on induction
Using statistical sampling is valid, however, people often forget an important part. When you take a sample size to extrapolate on the full population, you really should add the certainty. I.e. "Using a sample size of n, we can be 95% sure that the larger size of P has a probability of..."

re: comments on deduction:
I agree with you 100%. If the premise is "All A are B", then a single counter-example invalidates the premise.

You've probably heard the adage about lawyers, which is just as valid when applied to politicians:

The trouble with the legal profession is that 90% of lawyers give the rest a bad name


 
Stevens Miller
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fred rosenberger wrote:

The trouble with the legal profession is that 90% of lawyers give the rest a bad name



Heh, no, that's a new one on me.

My favorite joke referring to lawyers is one I posted in the Forums some time ago.

 
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Hey Stevens,

How about if we look at the claim:

"The vast majority of politicians in the U.S. congress are on the take".

What would be your views on that?
 
Stevens Miller
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Well, my main reaction to such statements is that they're silly and childish.

But, this is coderanch.com, and so, being almost all of us programmers, we can apply our skills at parsing and logic, and take the statement seriously enough to ask some pertinent questions.

First, what does "on the take" mean?
 
Paul Clapham
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My version of that is that they need money to run election campaigns, and often end up representing the people who provided that money rather than the people who live in the area they supposedly represent.
 
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Paul Clapham wrote:My version of that is that they need money to run election campaigns, and often end up representing the people who provided that money rather than the people who live in the area they supposedly represent.


That's a critical distinction, and why I asked for a definition. It's one thing to say, "on the take" means that an elected official (or even a candidate) has promised their vote in return for a cash payment (or some other gratuity) that they receive personally. It's another thing to say, "on the take" means the person will cast their vote a certain way in return for a campaign donation.

As to the first, my personal suspicion is that very few elected officials take outright bribes. That's partly because we have a name for such people: we call them "inmates." It's also partly because that sort of thing is indulged in by a particular sort of person, and it's hard to hide it when someone is that particular sort of person. People of that sort tend not to get elected. Certainly, they do get elected. Examples include: James Traficant, Mario Biaggi, Michael Grimm (though he pleaded "guilty" to charges not directly related to taking bribes), Bob Ney, and so forth. But outright crooks like them aren't the norm, at least as far as we can tell.

As to the second, that requires a kind of subclassing. Sure, pretty much all politicians--certainly every member of congress--rely on campaign donations. Call that the parent class. The subclasses include those who declare their positions on various issues, hoping that those declarations will attract support from donors (either a lot of support from many small donors, or else an equal amount of support from a few large donors, which could be further subclasses), and those who let it be known that their positions on issues may change if those donations don't keep coming. Put more simply, there are those who believe in an agenda, and hope their donors like it, and those who pick their agenda according to what their donors will like.

As a general rule, it's fairly easy to obtain donations by taking positions on either side of the bigger issues, so "selling" your agenda isn't really necessary. It's much easier to be straight about what you believe in, and what you are against, then find donors who agree with you, and ask them for money. For example, in America today, if you take a position for or against gun-control, there are people who will donate to you, regardless of which position you take (not the same people, but you'll get your donors, either way). Same thing for your position on abortion, labor unions, gay rights, and so on.

Now, that second category is a bit more complex if you include people who just don't give a damn about an issue, but take a position on it for the sake of getting donations. That is, suppose you care a lot about gun-control, but you don't give a fig what the law regarding gay marriage is. You could, on balance, look at how your gun-control position affects the two communities that care about gay marriage (those for it, and those against it), and then pick a gay-marriage position that you think gets you the most in donations. To some folks, that's a form of "selling" your vote, because you don't really believe in what you're supporting. But, other folks say it doesn't matter if a politician believes in what they vote for, just so long as they vote for what they promised to vote for at the time people were making their decisions about donations (and, on election day, about votes). A lot of people find that approach to politics rather appalling, because they'd like to know they are supporting people who are "really" on the same side with them. On the other hand, so long as a person (elected or otherwise) never wavers in their support for your cause, what difference does it make if they are doing so for the sake of donations, or for the sake of some sincerely held belief? If you want to, you can look at politicians as simple tools to achieve your own policy goals. Find one that votes the way you want, support that politician, and get them elected. So long as the politician honestly tells everyone ahead of time what position they support, and will continue to support after being elected, using that politician to achieve your goals is not much different from using a hammer to drive a nail. By that model, you are the one setting policy, not the politician.

Back to that first class, the politician who takes a thing of value in return for a vote, even that's more complicated than it appears, at least here in my beloved Commonwealth of Virginia. That's because, at the state level (not congress, now), there is no limit to the value of gifts a member of the state legislature can receive, provided that all such gifts are reported to the public. It can get a little insane. For example, my wife, Elizabeth, is running against a man named "Tag" Greason, for his seat in the state house of delegates. Mr. Greason publicly reported, a few years back, accepting some tickets to a football game (actually more than one), as gifts from the biggest electric power company in our state. Did they "buy" him with that? Only Mr. Greason knows for sure, but it's fair to say he was probably on their side already, given his general political agenda. Then again, why would a major corporation, heavily regulated by the state, feel any desire to just give someone something? Are we to believe Mr. Greason's status as an elected official had nothing to do with it? Seems clear that's not the case, but, in Virginia, the theory goes that, if the voters don't like him taking those gifts, then they can elect someone else (like Elizabeth, I hope ).

Now, people who just flat-out lie about what they stand for, and work against the things they promised to defend, and for the things they promised to oppose, well... yeah, if they're getting anything of value, money, gifts, donations, I guess they are "on the take," by almost any definition. But I don't think there are very many of those. Most of congress is pretty plain about what they stand for, and their donors know what it is.
 
Bert Bates
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Ok, so how do lobbyists figure in to this puzzle?
 
Stevens Miller
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Bert Bates wrote:Ok, so how do lobbyists figure in to this puzzle?


Oh, gosh, I couldn't tell you much about that. As a county supervisor, I dealt pretty much directly with my constituents and the businesses operating (or seeking to operate) in my district.

Now, we did have one big battle that involved a construction application that was opposed by a big corporation. Rather than lobby us (the nine supervisors), it seemed that the opponents spent a phenomenal amount of money lobbying the public. That is, they took out ads and hired lawyers to speak at meetings and did a bunch of other things that influenced public opinion. I can't speak for any of the other eight, but public opinion means a lot to me. Not so much because I wanted to be re-elected (I didn't; I was in it for one term, by choice). But because I have faith in my neighbors' ability to give me good advice.

This was different, though, as some of the things my neighbors who opposed the project started to tell me did not, upon being fact-checked by me, all turn out to be true. At the same time, some of the things the PR people hired by the opponents of the project were saying did not, upon fact-checking, turn out to be true. This was maddening to me, because it put me in the intolerable position of acting like an elected official who knew more than the people who elected him. Trouble was, they were being lied to, and the lies were being told by professional experts at shaping public opinion. I knew it, but I lacked the ability to show it them (since the opponents were ready to spend millions of dollars on their opposition, and I didn't have assets like that).

In one egregious example, the opponents stated they had "thousands" of e-mails from people who opposed the project. I asked to see them. They eventually brought them to me. On paper. It was a stack about 18 inches high. Many pages were duplicates. Many were blank. Some were, apparently, written from beyond the grave, as the addresses belong to dead people. Some actually supported, rather than opposed, the project. I happened to get this stack during a public meeting on the project, with several hundred people in the room. The opponents' PR person took her turn at the podium to say she was delivering some letters of opposition to each of us (in came people carrying foot-high stacks of paper), and, special for me, some e-mails in opposition that I had requested (in came a tenth person carrying my 18-inch high stack, literally tied with a big red ribbon and bow). Apparently, this was supposed to mock me, or something.

The final decision was 5-4, with me in the four, so I lost that one. As a result, any lobbyist who comes near me with a stack of paper in his or her hands had better stay at an arm's length from me.

You'll have to ask others what they think of lobbyists. I got no use for 'em.
 
But how did the elephant get like that? What did you do? I think all we can do now is read this tiny ad:
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