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                 The Reactionary Utopian
                    February 26, 2008

by Joe Sobran

     Nearly all discussion of politics overlooks a 
constant but hidden factor: blackmail. We can never know 
the extent to which our rulers are secretly ruled by 
others who know their dark secrets. And Washington, like 
most cities, is full of dark secrets.

     Since the 1996 election, for example, it has 
transpired that Bob Dole was afraid to make an issue of 
Bill Clinton's character because he was afraid that his 
own extramarital affair, many years earlier, might be 
revealed. I first read about it in the New York weekly 
THE VILLAGE VOICE at the very end of the campaign.

     I have no reason to believe that the Clinton team 
ever threatened Dole. That might not even have been 
necessary. Dole's anxiety might have been enough to 
intimidate him: "The guilty flee when no man pursueth."

     Suppose, though, that the Clinton campaign had 
wanted to scare Dole away from "the character issue." It 
could have been done without an overt threat, just by 
letting him know, even indirectly, that the Democrats 
knew the name of Dole's former mistress.

     Few things are more unnerving than learning that 
your enemy has learned things you don't want your own 
family to know. One reason the two parties seem so 
friendly to each other is that each is afraid of what the 
other might do in an all-out fight. Both have a lot to 
hide. And since keeping secrets is harder in the media 
age than ever before, the problem is likely to keep 
getting worse.

     "Opposition research," as it's tactfully called, is 
an integral part of the Clinton modus operandi. It 
includes hiring investigators to gather dirt on potential 
adverse witnesses. It includes illegally requisitioning 
FBI files on prominent Republicans. It has reportedly 
included putting a political enemy's credit card receipts 
on the front page of an Arkansas newspaper.

     Once you possess damaging information about your 
adversary, you can do several things with it. You can 
save it for a crucial moment. You can discreetly let him 
know you have it. You can leak it to the press. Or you 
can publicize it yourself, as both a punishment to him 
and a warning to others not to cross you.

     The Clinton trash team has made examples of several 
women, thereby discouraging others from telling their 
stories. If you say you know something about Bill 
Clinton, you can bet he's going to know something about 

     These techniques aren't new. A certain Senate 
majority leader a generation ago was known for his 
ability to collect the guilty secrets of his colleagues. 
When he needed their votes, he made sure they were keenly 
aware of what he knew about their private lives. He 
didn't have to bully them; he could simply needle them 
with a rough joke that told them he'd somehow heard about 
that weekend in Las Vegas. They got the point as surely 
as if they'd awakened that morning to find a horse's head 
between the sheets.

     We know that several presidents have used the FBI 
and IRS against their opposition. But we don't know how 
many times this has happened without coming to light even 
many years after the fact. Such things may remain 
permanently hidden from the most diligent historians. 
Just as we have no way of calculating how many crimes go 
undetected and unpunished, we can only guess how large a 
part blackmail plays in politics.

     As long as there is sin, there will be blackmail. No 
reform can get rid of it. It can take many forms, not all 
of them illegal or provable in court. And it will always 
remain a hidden factor. This means that we can never 
completely know who controls our nominal rulers.

     There is no real solution, but there is a 
corrective. The weaker the government, the less impact 
crime, corruption, and blackmail within the government 
can have on the rest of us.

     Men in power are more criminal than people in 
general, not only because power corrupts but also because 
most people who seek power are already corrupt. This 
being so, the danger of blackmail is one more reason to 
limit the power of government.

[This column was originally published by Universal Press 
Syndicate April 2, 1998.] 


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