“Vote for Marshbaum! Get your vote recorded early!”
On Main Street, shouting and scaring away dogs, Marshbaum was campaigning furiously, stopping almost every carbon form within 30 feet of him. In one hand was a sign, “Change With Obama.” In his other hand was “3 a.m. Hillary.”
“You are running for President?” I asked somewhat skeptically.
“Didn’t you read the signs?” asked an incredulous Marshbaum, upset that even a journalist could miss props that large. “I’m accepting votes for Obama or Hillary.”
“You’re doing what?!”
“Accepting votes,” he said matter-of-factly. “Whoever gives me the most money is the one I’m voting for.”
“Obama and Hillary certainly aren’t paying you to vote?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Marshbaum, “they only paid voters in the Iowa caucuses. I’m after Republicans.” With the Pennsylvania primary expected to give either Obama or Clinton the final momentum for the Democratic nomination, Marshbaum had figured out how to provide a nefarious service and be paid for it without governmental interference, something Republicans crave in the free market economy. “If more Republicans give me money for Obama, I’ll vote for him in April. If more give me money for Hillary, then it’s wake-up time in America, and she becomes the favorite for commander-in-chief.”
“Why would Republicans pay you to vote for Democrats?”
“With Bush’s approval rating around 18 percent and McCain getting the nomination, the Republicans need to believe they again matter—like when they could pock-mark the environment, write unconstitutional laws, and start wars without anyone objecting. By voting for a Democrat, like they could in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas, they can regain their voice.”
“So, you’re taking money from Republicans who aren’t allowed to cross over in Pennsylvania, and you’ll vote for whichever candidate has accumulated the most money for your scam.”
“Yep.” That’s all he said. “Yep.”
“This sounds terribly illegal.”
“Are you crazy?” he asked. “It’s done all the time. Every politician has his or her price. Check with the K Street lobbyists. They’ll tell you the going rate.” I was about to agree with him, when he nailed home yet another truth. “In Chicago, dead people often voted. I think there’s some kind of secret sauce in the embalming fluid that allows it.”
“That’s Chicago,” I said, “the cold winds damage brains, but what’s it have to do with Pennsylvania?”
“For decades, Philadelphia ward bosses rounded up drunks, deadbeats, and just about anyone who needed a few extra bucks. They went into the voting booths with them, and then paid them five bucks for the—how shall I say this?—the right vote.”
“I believe all that ended with a few legal challenges,” I said.
“Precedent,” Marshbaum said. “If there’s anything legal about it, then whatever happened before is what happens next. Didn’t you learn anything in Journalism School?
“Even if buying votes is legal, it’s still unethical and immoral.”
“How dare you accuse me of that!” he said, a fake tear coming through his outrage. “Other politicians may take the money and double-cross their customers. I deliver what I say I deliver.”
“Even if this is all legal and ethical—which I doubt—doesn’t this subvert the democratic process?”
“As if lobbyists, backroom deals, and a billion dollars for TV ad campaigns don’t?”
I was about to respond, but three TV camera crews shoved me and two homeless and uninsured combat veterans aside to get Marshbaum’s story. Between the microphones, Marshbaum looked at me. He knew—and he knew that I knew—that his story would make network news, and gather even more income for the Marshbaum Fund for Disingenuous Politicians, Press, and People.
[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com ands other stores. Dr. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, syndicated newspaper columnist and radio commentator, and president of the Pennsylvania Press Club. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]