Biennial Seductions

     Do you know how the professional seducer operates? Are you able to detect one at work? What if the seducer is aiming his wiles at you?

     In his novels, Robert A. Heinlein made several observations about con men and their operations. Their aggregate import can be stated as follows: The con man selects his targets carefully. He prefers those who think they can get something for nothing.

     If you think you can get something for nothing – alternately, that you can acquire your desire for less than its market price, with no offsetting consequences – you are the con man’s meat and drink. His traditional appellation for you is a mark. He “marks” you for fleecing, as a sheepfarmer marks members of the flock whose wool is thick and ready to be shorn.

     Some con men work as a kind of corporation. Some are assigned the early scutwork of seining out a promising mark. Others arrange “build-ups” to reinforce the mark’s conviction that he can get something for nothing. Finally, a “closer” pulls the mark into the big scam designed to capitalize on the mark’s carefully reinforced belief that there’s a score to be had and he can get a piece of it. Compare this to the pattern followed by “hustlers” of all kinds.

     In all the world, there is no bigger assemblage of con men than the one that promotes politics as a route toward national goals.


     The components of the political con corporation – henceforward, PoliCon – are many. They fall roughly into three categories:

  • Communications media;
  • Party strategists and allied interest-group leaders;
  • Office-seekers and holders.

     Each of these groups has a piece of the biennial con. In general terms, the communicators strive to persuade the public that there’s something positive to be had from political commitment. The party strategists and their allies in the interest groups create a “how” for the quest: broadly speaking, the election of particular candidates and the popular demand for certain legislation. The candidates are the tip of the spear: those who are represented as the enactors of “the will of the people.” In combination, these forces function to keep voters agitated and voting.

     H. L. Mencken spoke of what usually follows:

     At each election we vote in a new set of politicians, insanely assuming that they are better than the set turned out. And at each election we are, as they say in Motherland, done in.

     “Done in” has a terminal sound about it. Yet what comes about – so far, anyway – is not the death of the nation. That’s not currently the aim of PoliCon. Rather, its masters seek the perpetuation of conditions already established by their previous machinations. Those who hold high-value niches are protected from displacement; indeed, many don’t stand for election at all. Regardless of vote distributions and the specifics of races won and lost, “business as usual” continues with only cosmetic changes. What’s “done in” is the hopeful attitude of many whom PoliCon seduced:

     Politics, as hopeful men practice it in the world, consists mainly of the delusion that a change in form is a change in substance. The American colonists, when they got rid of the Potsdam tyrant, believed fondly that they were getting rid of oppressive taxes forever and setting up complete liberty. They found almost instantly that taxes were higher than ever, and before many years they were writhing under the Alien and Sedition Acts. [Mencken again]

     Of course, if this pattern is repeated long enough, many who participated will realize that they’ve been gulled and will withdraw from further involvement. Demographic changes – maturation of new voters; immigrants from other lands; changes in the distribution of population – refresh the ranks of the marks. As the weary and cynical fall out of the ranks, they’re replaced by naïve newcomers.

     There’s a sucker born every minute. – ascribed to P. T. Barnum, but possibly apocryphal

     And the con goes merrily on.


     Let’s wind this up with maximum cynicism. Have a few statements from my vast collection of lapel buttons:

Don’t Vote:
It only encourages them!

If voting could change anything,
They’d outlaw it.

Nobody can fix the economy.
Nobody can be trusted with his finger on the button.
Nobody’s perfect.

Vote for Nobody!

Cthulhu for President:
Because you’re tired of choosing
The lesser of two evils.

     It’s been said, by me among others, that politics cannot fix politically created problems. The truth of that statement has penetrated a fair number of minds already. It’s a train of thought that deserves encouragement. However, it deserves a shift of focus.

     Politics sustains and promotes the notion that government can do what individuals cannot. This is so obviously a falsehood that there’s no imaginable way to defend it. Whether they act in their own private interest or from a conviction that doing some particular thing will distribute benefits widely, individuals are always the actors. Governments don’t swing hammers or wield shovels. All they do is impose an overhead on individuals’ actions.

     Governments are the reason for what’s called the “public goods trap:” the notion that mass coercion is “necessary” to prevent “free riders” on “public benefits:” i.e., persons who enjoy the benefits of government actions without contributing to their costs. The coercion is mainly through taxation:

     When religion needs money, it passes a collection plate and lets you decide how much to give, if anything. When society needs money, a silver-haired matron rings your doorbell, and you are free to say you gave at the office. [Government] has a better system; each year it figures out exactly how much the public will stand for—short of actual armed rebellion—and spends it in advance. Then on April 15 it says, “You pay or go to jail.” Belonging to a government is like having your credit card stolen. – Allan Sherman

     If my Gentle Readers need a crowning irony, it’s this:

Government creates more free riders
Than anything else in history.

     It’s just that they’re “hidden:”

  • As beneficiaries of transfer programs;
  • As organizations that sell to government;
  • As bureaucrats and office-holders who get the “skim.”

     Is the required shift of focus becoming a wee bit clearer?


     I hope I haven’t been heavier-handed about this than is warranted. The power of PoliCon at promoting government as the “solution” to “problems,” and the election as the necessary and proper agency of whatever changes we might seek, is millions of times what a lone Curmudgeon can bring to the fray. That tends to make these tirades strident and angry. There’s also all those “hidden” free riders at work, pushing the “government uber alles” agenda to preserve and increase their piece of the action. What’s one voice against all that?

     But with the con getting larger and more opulent every two years, with the masters of PoliCon becoming ever more deeply entrenched, and with an accelerating trend among young Americans toward centralized, socialist “solutions” to entirely fictitious “problems,” maybe the disparity isn’t a good reason to sit silent.

     Have a nice day.


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    • Bear Claw on November 16, 2022 at 9:49 AM

    Like all these medicare commercials call this number to see if your zip code qualifies for a rebate towards your social security. Who picks the zip codes that are probably already free loader gibs me dats?

  1. What’s one voice against all that?

    While it’s no fun feeling like a crank, dirty jobs still need doing.

    • Jeffrey on November 17, 2022 at 7:32 AM

    Yes, this is pretty much the Jeffrey philosophy.  We didn’t have medicare fraud when we didn’t have medicare.  And so on.  It is unfortunate that the status quo (wealth distribution via government, with its attendant skim) is not even questioned.

    • James Archer on November 17, 2022 at 12:36 PM

    In the con man corporation you left one player out.  At the end there is always one who’s job it is to convince the mark the reporting the con to others or going to the authorities  is not in the mark’s best interest.

    “The Sting” is a great example of the corporate con game.

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