Home/Daniel Larison/Stop Talking About Earmarks!

Stop Talking About Earmarks!

In the year of our nation, 2005, “earmark,” a term of trade known only to political technicians, became a household word. The Bridge to Nowhere, a mere outlay of $320 million in that year’s $2.5 trillion federal budget, led to the decline and fall of the Republican Party [bold mine-DL]. In 2006, a disgusted American electorate threw Republicans from office, and transferred House control to the Democrats. ~Daniel Henninger

None of this is true, except that there was an appropriation for the bridge a few years ago and the Republicans did lose control of the House (and, one might add, the Senate). There was no “year of our nation” 2005, but the Year of Our Lord, I very much doubt earmark was or is a household word, and the Bridge to Nowhere did not lead to the fall of the GOP. It coincided with that fall, which was happening for other reasons, and it certainly didn’t help prevent the fall, but it had no significant effect on the 2006 (or 2008) elections. The electorate was disgusted, but for the most part it was disgusted over other things, including the response, or lack thereof, to the ruin of New Orleans and the disaster that was unfolding in Iraq, and to the extent that the behavior of members of Congress entered into it at all it was the criminal behavior of so many House members resulting in indictments and convictions for corruption.

Having deemed earmarking to be corruption, its monomaniacal foes would like to conclude that the electorate’s revulsion against actual corruption that violated the law has something to do with objections to pork-barrel spending. Of course, Duke Cunningham wasn’t sent away because he directed some federal money to his district for some construction project, but because he used his office to acquire gifts and favors for himself. Henninger is so preoccupied with Jack Murtha’s wheeling and dealing that he seems to have forgotten all about DeLay, Abramoff and the K Street crowd who represented the real criminal and unethical excesses of the GOP majority. Who can take seriously an argument that concludes, “The whole system has become an earmark”? What does that even mean? That is like saying that the federal government has become an amendment. It is nonsense. If the “whole system” were somehow “an earmark,” that would mean that there would be some degree of accountability and transparency, so that we would know how and where our money is being spent. Instead, especially as it relates to the actions of Treasury and the Fed and the money appropriated for the TARP, that has not been the case at all.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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