The state of the union is angry. Citizens are furious about gas prices and health-care costs, broken schools and property taxes. These are the leaky hydrants, the constant reminders that government hasn’t done much for them lately.  Their fury has bubbled as they’ve watched Washington obsess over itself – dealing out earmarks [bold mine-DL], paying off constituencies, launching probes into political enemies. Accomplishing zip. ~Kimberley Strassel

That’s odd.  I thought all this anger was the product of agitated bloggers and cranks.  Why, it’s almost as if there might be legitimate reasons to be angry with Washington’s misrule and the administration’s incompetence.  Naturally, even in diagnosing the national mood correctly Strassel still comes back to the old saw of complaining about earmarks and “paying off constituencies,” as if those were the things that really angered Americans.  Constituencies are made up of voters and those who employ them–paying off voters is usually popular, whether or not it is a good idea.  The few meager instances we have of the federal government serving its constituents can be found among those earmarks and pay-offs.  Earmarks may or may not be wasteful, and the things they are funding are almost always not the business of the federal government, but they are about as far from Washington obsessing over itself as you can get.  It may be bribing voters with their own money, but at the very least it is some small, pathetic sign that the government works for them.  It is the impressive failure of government on major policy after major policy that infuriates people, and more importantly it is the total lack of accountability at the top for repeated failures in judgement and leadership that angers them.

In the litany of Republican failures, Strassel offers a list that is almost as ridiculous as the Republican non-agenda she criticises:

Today’s GOP spends so much time fretting about how to relive the Reagan heyday, it has failed to do him credit by laying out its own plans for today’s unique challenges. It remains in hock to interest groups, running ads about sanctuary cities as Americans curse over gas prices. In a repeat of 2006, it spends more time trying to scare voters about Democrats than defining itself. It refuses to give up the earmarks that are a symbol of its worn-out reign [bold mine-DL].

Notice how she manages to make the open borders point in the midst of what seems to be a complaint about voter frustration, some significant part of which is frustration with the inability to enforce immigration laws and control the border?  Very deft.  If you are against sanctuary cities, you belong to an “interest group” (ooh, scary!).  Never mind that sanctuary cities might be something that the government could do something about, while Strassel and every other minimally educated person knows that it can do very little about gas prices.  That won’t stop Congress from boosting them with subsidies for the ethanol boondoggle that helps drive gas prices in the Midwest to their $4.00+/gal levels.  And yet again, there is the dreaded earmark. 

War in Iraq?  Possible recession?  Central bank-fueled bubbles that have collapsed?  New entitlements?  Deficit spending?  Effects of the weakening dollar?  No, no, it is the mighty earmark that explains the problem with the GOP! 

Granted, I don’t travel the country talking to voters, but I would bet you a sizeable amount of money that if you asked people what concerned them earmarks would never make the list.  Earmarks are the sort of thing that good government types and political junkies talk about, which leaves the other 95% of America talking about something else.  Republicans in Washington and their backers are so out of touch that they seem to think quite seriously that earmarks and the failure to reform earmarks are among the chief complaints of the American voter.  

But Strassel seems to be absolutely fixated:

This redefinition should’ve come earlier. And it would mean more if House incumbents who swear they’ve learned a lesson would demonstrate it in office. Say, with an earmark ban [bold mine-DL].   

That might end up saving something on the order of $15-30 billion dollars in a $3 trillion dollar budget in any given year, while ensuring that the federal government does even less for its constituents than it already does.  People seem to focus on earmarks because they are such a small, irrelevant part of the overall budget process on the assumption that they can be handled easily, but there is no incentive for members of Congress to give up a tool that can be used to the advantage of them and their constituents.  Tackling the source of our long-term budget problems, entitlements, would require the kind of political risk and heavy lifting that no one in either party wants to do, and so you have the absurdity of a party pushing something as trivial as earmark reform, for which it will receive no credit anyway, and ignoring the sort of imaginative and necessary reform that might be part of an agenda worth mentioning.

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