In Praise of Earmarks

Pork BarrelMatt Yglesias wrote an article yesterday that goes along with my long held beliefs, Why I Miss Pork-Barrel Politics. This really came to me several years ago when there was this explosion of media coverage saying that earmarks were a bad thing. Earmarks and pork are not bad things—at least not necessarily bad things.

This goes back to my argument Bipartisan Consensus Can Bite Me. Representatives are supposed to do what is best for their constituencies. I expect my local officials to do what is best for my area. Of course, this does mean looking out for the nation and even the world as a whole. But a great deal of it is local. This is why traditionally, even without gerrymandering, House seats are safer than Senate seats. But as Yglesias points out, with earmarks and similar ways to allow politicians to grant favors to their constituencies, there is nothing left but ideology.

The current situation didn’t come about in a vacuum, of course. There was real corruption (especially under the Republicans):

In response to this wave of sleaze, the new Democratic majority elected in 2006 imposed some tough new ethics rules. When Republicans retook the House in 2010, they aimed to symbolize a clean break with DeLay-era practices by adopting a blanket ban on earmarks. And by and large it worked. Nothing’s perfect, but today’s Congress is remarkably free of corruption—whether of the formally illegal kind or just unseemly horse trading.

And that is precisely the problem. It turns out that a Congress full of highly principled men and women, fired-up by genuine idealism about America’s future, is a place where nothing gets done.

I think it is worse than this. Ideology is toxic in a political system like our own. If we had a parliamentary system, it might be different; but we don’t. We now have a large part of the political system thinking that the other side is invalid. And this kind of ideology leads to nihilism. This is where we get the almost explicit belief among conservatives that it is better to destroy the government than to let it fall into the hands of those communists, the Democrats.

It isn’t like this is new. The “better dead than red” slogan is a good example of this. (Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the phrase is of German origin, probably from Joseph Goebbels himself.) But it doesn’t too much matter what the freaks on the edge think. When it comes to government, we need to get back to horse trading. I would rather see a whole lot more corruption in Washington than the systemic threats that “reform” has brought us these last two years.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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