Over the Hill

Supreme Court doesn’t know a bribe when it sees one

I like seeing the election campaign signs that have blossomed along many streets. They add color. It makes me feel good that all those candidates want to communicate with me. In a very real sense, they are flirting with me.

But, of course, I realize it’s just a fling on their part. I doubt that by mid-November they’ll still be eager for my attention.

And they may forget that democracy is a mixed blessing that requires constant attention. They can’t just turn it on, set thermostat and forget it.

Winston Churchill, the great British prime minister during World War II, was very realistic about it. He said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” He said that in a speech to the House of Commons two years after the war.

I’ve been interested since I was 5 years old in what wise men say about democracy. For example, I remember that Will Rogers, the cowboy humorist, once said, “I’m not a member of any organized party. I am a Democrat.”

You see, I was 5 years old in 1935, the same year that Will Rogers was killed in an airplane crash in Alaska. It was big news. He was a beloved celebrity. That Christmas my aunt Wyn gave my father a book titled “Will Rogers, Ambassador of Good Will, Prince of Wit and Wisdom.” I still have it.

It contained photos of Rogers, his one-eyed pilot, Wiley Post, and their amphibious plane before and after their crash. It also contained photos of Rogers at various stages in his career. It must have struck me as an important tragedy. I frequently studied the photos.

So in later years I often read and re-read Will Rogers’ jokes, wisecracks and observations. They may be one of the reasons I started writing a newspaper column. Will Rogers wrote columns too, you know.

His homespun comments and observations were often about politics. Here’s an example: “In this country people don’t vote for. They vote against.”

He also said, “No elective candidate is ever as bad or as good as we expect him to be.” And he said, “Politics has got so expensive that it takes a lot of money to even get beat with.”

I wonder what Will Rogers would say today about some recent Supreme Court rulings. Those rulings and other federal actions now allow super-rich people and organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money to support political candidates. Aren’t those candidates then deeply indebted to those contributors? To put it another way, aren’t contributions like that, in effect, bribes?

Will Rogers is long dead, but about those rulings he might have said, “I guess that proves the majority of Supreme Court justices have never been bribed. They didn’t know a bribe when they saw one.”

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.