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Salaries of Politicians  

by Vardis Fisher

The Idaho Statesman, January 6, 1946



Dear Senator Taylor:

      You seem to be doing an awful lot of squawking back there about your salary.  It is true that the cost of living has increased in recent years and that Washington is an expensive city to live in.  It may be true that a senator's salary is too low.  But you knew all that before you chased your legs off seeking the office.  I've never heard [Congressman] Henry Dworshak squawking and he has to stand election expenses every two years, whereas you don't have to worry until 1950.  

      Besides, you've been back there only a year, yet more than once you've leapt to your feet and yelled for more pay.  According to a report the other day in the Associated Press you said, "I do not believe that the people of Idaho expect me to go in debt."  That's a pretty preposterous statement.  If because of bad management or expensive tastes or old and unpaid obligations you find yourself in debt, what in hell do the people of Idaho have to do with it?  Anybody could apply that kind of specious reasoning to his circumstances.   

      You say you're in debt $14,000 but that's because you bought a $15,000 home.  Supposing, having no cash in hand, I were to run in debt for $14,000 worth of goods and then say, "Listen here, good people of Idaho, I don't think you expect me to go in debt," and they say, "Fisher, you idiot, we have nothing to do with your confounded debts.  If you don't like them stay out of them."  It would be nice to feel that the good people of Idaho would leap to my rescue every time I financially overreached myself.  

      According to the report you also said,  "I feel that most certainly we should have more money."  Senator, everybody in the world feels that way.  My wife feels that way, and so do my neighbor's wife and the wives of all my friends.  The Hagerman business men feel that way.  So do the hired men roundabout here.  And haven't you heard that Phil Murray's men feel that way?--and John Lewis'?--and Bill Green's?  If you know of anybody in the world who doesn't feel that way, send his name to Ripley.  If there is such a person known to you, give him a little push and he'll levitate.  

      But during your socialistic lucubrations have you ever figured out where all the extra dough is coming from?  Unlike some of those who voted for you,  you certainly do not believe that all one needs to get more money is a printing press and a pile of paper.  As a matter of fact, this country has been getting more money--but not more purchasing power.  For some time you have been an advocate of more money, and now, discovering that more money merely means a cheaper dollar, you don't like it.  You would be doing all right back there if your salary had the purchasing power of, say, 1940.  You were one of the advocates of more money, which has turned out to be cheaper money, and now you are saying that we out in Idaho don't expect you to go in debt.   

      Whether you go in debt or not is your own business and we don't care a hoot, but we do observe that you don't seem to like the results of your own economic philosophy.  If you were to look back at my columns in this newspaper you would find one two or three years ago called, "We'll Get the Squeeze."  It said that Roosevelt wanted more money for organized labor because that was the best way to get their votes.  It said that organized labor and industry would do all right; there would be increase in wages, then increase in prices, then increase in wages, then increase in prices--and so on, endlessly.  They'd keep up with the cost of living and they would maintain their profits.  

      But what about the rest of us?  Oh, we're the ones who got the squeeze and we are very happy to welcome you to our company.  It's quite a large company, Senator.  There are many millions of us, including school teachers and many others who are on fixed pay but whose votes the politicians don't worry about.  There are teachers trying to get along with the same number of dollars they received in 1940, though the purchasing power of their dollar, as you have discovered with shudders of horror, has been reduced by a third or more.  And we writers, Senator, get the same old royalty on a book that we got back in 1940.  We get the same number of dollars but they buy an awful lot less.  

      I think it is a very appropriate irony that you have been caught by the very bogus philosophy which you preached.  You preached more money but you never pointed out to the gullible goons who voted for you that more money always means cheaper money.  You advocated higher wages without making it clear that if everybody in the nation is given the same percentage of wage increase, then nobody gains anything.  What you politicians are everlastingly doing is to ask for higher wages for special groups and at the expense of other groups.  

      Let's go back to that article of mine years ago.  Roosevelt, as foxy a politician as ever came down the pike, got higher and higher wages for the people whose votes he could count on.  Those higher wages gave them an advantage over the millions who got no boost.  Did Roosevelt ever in his life drop any of those golden baritone words of sympathy for the unorganized wage groups?  Elbert D. Thomas, dictatorial chairman of the labor committee, did come out before the last election and cast a few compassionate tears at the teachers and similar groups because he smelled something in the wind.  He was scared to death that Roosevelt would get licked, and he thought a few platitudes in the direction of the forgotten men and women might bring in a few hopeful votes.

      All the while that Roosevelt was making more money by cheapening the dollar, we on the fixed income were getting the squeeze.  We've got it now and no kidding.  Teachers are being forced into other work.  County officials, paid only a fraction of what you get, have to run chicken farms or whatnot to make ends meet.  And we authors, Senator, get the same royalty, but our 1940 dollar is worth about 65 cents now.  Yes, indeed, we welcome you to our company, and hope that your experience will at least modify some of your phoney notions of economics.  We sometimes feel as pinched as a woman in a steel girdle but you don't hear us yelping our heads off.  We learned long ago that politicians cast their pearls where the votes are organized, and care little enough about the millions who have no gauleiters to make deals for them.  You members of congress are also on fixed pay, and if you see the evidence in your grocery bill of a steadily shrinking dollar, remember that you are there to insure a stable nation, and not merely to clamor for more pay every time for political reasons organized labor is given a boost.  

      There is another aspect of the matter that you seem not to have considered.  If I were to write books different from the kind I write, I'd probably earn, not $1000 or so per volume but 50 or 100,000.  With your talent for publicizing yourself, it seems probable that you could earn more than a senator's salary.  If I don't choose to do the kind of thing that would earn more money it would be tastelessly stupid of me to gripe about my present earnings.  You chased around here for years trying to get the job you have, knowing all the while how much it paid and that you could earn more in other fields; and so it seems ridiculous for you to be complaining, now that you have it.

      The best of our public officials don't seek their positions for the money.  There are other and infinitely greater rewards.  For a senator who can win it, there is the respect of his ablest colleagues, and that is something no money-chaser has ever had.  There is his own respect to win and keep, and his conscience to live with, while devoting himself faithfully to the welfare of his country.  And after his long service is over there is the monument to himself in the memory and the gratitude of the people he served.  If such deep and abiding gratifications don't make your salary seem rather incidental, then you don't belong there, and the people of Idaho will be happy to relieve you of the job in 1950.

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