September 11, 2008  ·  Lessig

SusanG at the DailyKos has a callout for John Cole’s post about earmarks. As Cole put’s it:

The total national debt, as I write this, is $9,679,000,000,000.00 (nine and a half trillion).

The Budget for 2008 is close to $3,000,000,000,000.00 (three trillion).

Our budget deficit for this year is going to range in between $400-500,000,000,000.00 (four hundred to five hundred billion, give or take a few billion).

The total value of earmarks in 2008 will be approximately $18,000,000,000.00 (eighteen billion).

In other words, when McCain talks about earmarks, he is talking about 3% of our annual budget deficit, .6% of our annual budget, and a number too small to even report when discussing our national debt. Or, put another way, he is talking about two months in Iraq, something he wants to keep going indefinitely.

Not only are they lying about Palin’s involvements with earmarks, they are just not being serious about the horrible economic problems we face. These are not serious people.

I think this is missing the point. True, earmarks are small potatoes. But the problem with earmarks is that they’ve become an engine of corruption. The explosion after the Republicans took over under Newt was because they were a newly deployed source of influence, designed (too often) to induce or repay a gift (or what others call, a campaign contribution).

Liberals should be as upset with this as conservatives (though for different reasons no doubt). And we should especially (imho) resist the “if McCain believes it it must be wrong” trope. McCain is right to criticize earmarks. Whether he (or Palin) can do it credibly is a separate matter.

  • Seth Finkelstein

    Sigh … can I have your permission to criticize this post? It’s not worth it if you’re going to get mad at me. Maybe it’s not worth it all :-(.

    Note, regarding “if McCain believes it it must be wrong” – well, it’s not a hard and fast rule, and years ago it wouldn’t even be arguable – but these days, I’d say it’s a pretty good working hypothesis.

  • John

    Lawrence, you have identified something very important here, which is that these election cycles are growing ever more divisive rather than actually getting us anywhere. If the guy that we don’t like is in support of something, then we can’t get behind it and get our guy to do that selfsame thing. It is unfortunate, really. Earmarks are an engine for corruption, and while they may only make up a tiny amount of the budget, it’s a damn big tiny amount any way you look at it.

  • 6.54

    The issue isn’t whether earmarks are good or bad, though – you’re absolutely right that they’re an easy engine for corruption, and I think most people would agree that they should be much more closely watched or even eliminated (it was an issue before this campaign, after all). The problem is that the McCain campaign is making earmarks the centerpiece of their economic promises, as though the total eradication of earmarks would solve a mountain of unrelated problems. Cole’s point is about context, and is extremely helpful – though not sufficient – for getting a handle on the situation.

  • David desJardins

    Do you have evidence for your assertion that Sarah Palin is, or has been, an opponent of Congressional earmarks? As far as I can tell, this is just not true.

  • Steve Baba

    “if McCain believes it it must be wrong” – well, it’s not a hard and fast rule, and years ago it wouldn’t even be arguable – but these days, I’d say it’s a pretty good working hypothesis.

    Of course seventy-five or eighty percent agreement with any political candidate is about the best that one can hope for. Most people hold their nose and vote.

    I have been one of my websites where I disagree with Bush and McCain, simple in my opinion, view of social security privatization.

    But McCain’s chance of pushing any of his conservative economic reform such as social security privatization or his more privatization (choice) in health care is about as likely to be implemented as George Bush plan was. Even less chance with fewer Replicans in office.

    Voters may realize that McCain has next to no chance of implementing his extreme ideas, and rightly ignore them. This is not the case with Obama’s ideas many voters consider wrong.

  • Wes

    What is the difference between a dictatorship and a western style democracy? Some would say that it is only that, in a western style democracy, the dictator gets elected every so often.

    I would say that it is more: that, in a western style democracy, decisions are supposed to be made not by the “gut feeling” of the leader but by a process. Rather than having a “king” decide whose head to chop off, you want a system: a system of laws and courts and judges and juries.

    Decisions regarding government expenditures should also be made in the context of a system. Experts should predict the outcomes of the expenditures and the people should, through their elected representatives, choose the outcomes that they prefer.

    There should be a system for all levels of expenditure decisions: the small earmarks, the large spending on Iraq, and everything in between. Naturally, there may be subtle differences in how the system treats large and small expenditures but the fundamental principles should be the same

  • John David Galt

    Earmarks are just a symptom of a larger problem, which is the reason our Federal government has grown much larger than anyone except a die-hard socialist would ever want it to be. The problem is the practice by members of Congress of “bringing home pork”.

    The Supreme Court should have stopped the practice way back in the Andrew Jackson administration by enforcing the 9th Amendment: Bribing states with national taxpayers’ money is not one of the powers enumerated in Article I, Section 8, therefore Congress doesn’t have the power to do any such thing.

    But since we’re unlikely to get a Supreme Court that will *do* its job, it’ll probably take a constitutional amendment. I suggest changing the House of Representatives to a proportional vote system, so the members will no longer be associated with any particular district (except the whole US) and thus will be UNABLE to “bring home pork.” This will remove the incentive that now powers this “tragedy of the commons”.