I’ve been travelling for a day or so, and so have come late to the controversy over earmarks, for which my blood pressure thanks me. That anyone can still be defending earmarks, at least on the right side of the aisle, is astounding. It’s not only the small ‘c’ corruption that earmarks can imply, and it’s not only the not so small ‘e’ extravagance that they represent, it’s also the political tone deafness of those who–even now–look to defend them.
Kimberley Strassel looks at this question in a splendid article in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s the key–political–point:
All those Republicans complaining that earmarks are a tiny part of the budget, and this just a “symbolic” vote? They’ve got one bit right. This is a hugely symbolic vote. The public is watching. And it is long-term credibility at stake. A GOP that is indeed intent on “serious” budget cuts is going to need public support for tough cuts. As GOP House Whip Eric Cantor has pointed out, a public that can’t trust Republicans to fix “small” problems won’t trust them on “large” ones.
Symbolism counts. Over in the UK David Cameron’s not insignificant attempts to restrain the growth of public spending (talk of net cuts is nonsense, however: public expenditure is set to grow between now and 2013) will have been hurt by his grotesque decision to increase foreign aid, his supine approval of increased EU expenditure and his massively expensive environmental initiatives. But the most damaging development of all may be the revelation that Cameron’s “vanity photographer” has been put on the public payroll. Now, as a matter of fact, this recruitment doesn’t involve too many scarce pounds and an argument (of sorts) can be made that it will actually end up saving the public money, but it’s something that is easy to understand, easy to mock and very difficult to reconcile with the supposed dawning of the age of austerity. In short, it was political lunacy.
Which brings me back to those who defend earmarks…