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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “Dear voters…”

In my Pittsburgh Tribune-Review column of October 31st, 2006, I expressed my astonishment at people’s gullibility for politicians’ assertions and promises.

You can read my astonishment beneath the fold.

Dear voters…

Mitchell Joy recently sent me an urgent e-mail. Although I’ve never before heard of Mr. Joy, he wrote to me from his home in Ghana with assurances that he knows me to be a man of impeccable character. Joy needs my help. And, according to him, I can use his. He assures me that together we can both be of great benefit to each other.

Joy very tragically just lost his dear father, who was a successful and upstanding businessman worth tens of millions of U.S. dollars. But the nefarious government officials in Ghana are threatening to block Joy’s access to this money. He must get these funds out of Ghana ASAP or they will be lost to him forever.

That’s where I come in. Having been assured by certain nameless persons of my integrity, Joy wants to use my U.S. bank account as the escape vehicle for his $25 million. All I must do is to send to Mr. Joy my bank’s name and my checking-account number. Within days $25 million will be deposited therein, half of which I will transfer to Joy when he arrives in the U.S. sometime next year; I get to keep the remaining $12.5 million.

What a deal! I’ll become rich as I promote justice by keeping the Ghanaian government’s greedy paws off of assets that rightfully belong to Mitchell Joy.

I will use my $12.5 million to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m told that it’s for sale.

Every day I and millions of other Americans receive countless e-mails similar to the one I got from “Mr. Joy.” While the details of the schemes to separate me from my money differ from e-mail to e-mail, the writers of each of these messages claim to be victims of injustices — injustices that, with my help, the writers can remedy.

Each writer also promises that my help will be handsomely rewarded with financial gain requiring almost no work on my part other than to trust the Joys of the world.

Obviously, it doesn’t remotely dawn on me that Joy is anything other than a scam artist. Who trusts such strangers? What kind of credulity must someone possess to think, upon reading messages such as the one from Joy, “Oh boy! This perfect stranger wants access to my money so that he can make it grow! How lucky I am!”

Fortunately, good ol’ American horse sense ensures that the vast majority of Americans immediately recognize Joy to be a con artist. Messages from Joy and his legions of fellow rip-off artists are immediately deleted.

But where is this horse sense at election time? My television, radio, newspapers and local streets now are bursting with pleas from perfect strangers asking me to trust them with my wealth and liberties.

“Vote for me and I’ll make your life better by building more roads for your use!”

“Elect me and I’ll improve your well-being by reducing the cost of medical care!”

“Once in Congress I’ll work tirelessly for ALL Virginians!”

These television spots are filled also with pictures — obviously staged — of the candidates talking with schoolchildren, shaking hands with senior citizens, listening earnestly to factory workers and playing touch football at family picnics. We’re supposed to believe that these people are special and caring servants of others. We’re supposed to feel confident that we can trust these people with power.

Perhaps some politicians are indeed especially caring and trustworthy servants of the public. But surely we should not presume these people to be such rare saints merely because they tell us that they are such rare saints. We don’t believe the Marshall Joys of the world when they boast to us of their sincerity and trustworthiness. Nor do we feel proud of ourselves when the Marshall Joys stroke our egos by telling us that they know us to be unusually laudable and trustworthy. We know that the Marshall Joys are lying through their teeth as they attempt to lure us into a trap.

Strangers asking for bank-account numbers differ in many ways from strangers asking for votes. But I’m struck by the similarities. In both cases people we don’t know and who don’t know us seek to gain our trust so that they can then gain open-ended access to our wealth.

In both cases each of the strangers seeking our trust pretends there to be a special, personal connection between him or her and us. And in both cases there is no particular reason to believe that any of these strangers should be trusted with power over us or our assets.