Matt 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):
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.