Faced with a party that is preoccupied with symbolism and obsessed with fighting earmarks, Patrick Ruffini proposes the embrace of a GOP-backed earmark ban as a symbol of Republican seriousness. By itself, this would not be all that remarkable. Raging against earmarks is just about the only thing Republicans know how to do these days, so I suppose it makes sense to stick to what you know, but what is worse is that Ruffini is justifying this as an obvious political winner. This is just not true.

Not only do most people not know or care about earmarks in general, they are often quite fond of earmarks that go to their districts. Ron Paul sometimes gets in trouble with pundits who like to point out that he requests earmarks for his district as part of his role as their representative, but in many of those cases it is hard to see why, for example, shoring up a sea wall in Galveston, which is an area vulnerable to storm surge during hurricane season, is such a terrible or wasteful thing. Indeed, even if you are a strict constructionist, it is not so far out to think that the federal government might even have some proper role in providing for coastal defenses against natural disasters. It is also difficult to understand why representatives should not do what they can to get their constituents a share of the money that the government has taken from them. This is probably the only time members of Congress do anything remotely close to serving the interests of their constituents, and it has become the object of Republican ridicule and scorn for several years now. The problem is not that Republicans in Congress say one thing and do another, although that hardly helps, but that they think the problem is their continued use of earmarking and not their inane rhetoric about eliminating earmarks.

Not only is an anti-earmark crusade irrelevant electorally, but it could actually be directly harmful to House members when they are facing re-election. As has been pointed out elsewhere, a minority party has nothing much to show for itself at election-time if its members cannot at least bring home some bacon. If the GOP cannot soften the blow of their general fascination with austerity economics by pointing to projects they are bringing to their districts, some of their members are going to be in real danger of being voted out. If the DCCC recruits as smartly and effectively as they have in past cycles, promoting fiscally conservative Blue Dog candidates against pro-austerity incumbents, there are seats that the GOP thinks are safe that may not prove to be.

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