Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pining for earmarks, longing for graft, and fetishizing "getting things done"

Boehner and Pelosi at the feet of George Washington Plunkitt.
Tammany Hall got a lot done.
Last week, while commenting on a John Harwood column about Ronald Reagan's negotiating skills, the Dividist pointed to a missing political tool that makes it harder for our federal government to forge compromise:
"Harwood missed another factor that made it easier for both Reagan and Clinton to push a deal through a divided congress. In the Reagan and Clinton eras legislative ideological opposition could be softened through the widespread practice of sweetening deals with earmarks secretly carved out in committee. Lets' call it what it was - a form of legalized bribery to buy votes by throwing money to a district or big contributor. It was slimy. It was corrupt as hell. But it was sure effective in greasing the legislative skids and blunting ideological opposition. It still happens, but not to the degree that it did in the Reagan and Clinton years. The loss of that tool makes the job harder for Obama. Regardless, if the question is where does responsibility lie for getting deals done in a divided government? The answer is that the buck stops in the Oval Office. Full stop."
David Plotz at Salon used Chris Christie's modus operandi as a starting point and takes it to another level. Here he pines for earmarks and waxes nostalgic for just the right amount of corruption in "Politics Should Be Dirtier":

"American politics is a broken horror, particularly at the national level, not because politicians are too dirty, but because they’re not nearly dirty enough. Children need to eat dirt to develop immunological resistance that protects them from allergies and disease as they grow up. Something similar is true in politics: Minor forms of corruption—votes bought with earmarks, traded favors—create a political flexibility that keeps the entire system from collapsing in moments of crisis  But excessive hygiene is rampant in Washington. The controlling conservative wing of the Republican Party is addicted to principle. If politics is the art of compromise, we have a huge number of elected officials who are not politicians at all but rather zealots animated by ideology. This consistency, so admirable in a campaign ad, makes governing and legislation nearly impossible... But done right, corruption helps create a government that gets things done. Americans aspire to clean politics. But clean politics has given us a national government that doesn’t work. We need to get a little bit grubbier."
Certainly, to some degree, Plotz is writing tongue-in-cheek (at least I hope he is).  But he does seem to be expressing genuine nostalgia for the good ol' days of earmarks and "honest graft".  This is the endgame of fetishizing government "just getting things done" over doing what is right and proper and carefully thought out.  Of course the benefits of "just getting things done" are always in the eyes of the beholder. When expressed by this administration or its supporters, "just getting things done" translates directly into "more spending, more taxes, more entitlements, more and bigger government". Sorry, but adding "more graft" to that litany doesn't make the proposition any more attractive.

Perhaps we all could use a reminder of what "honest graft" really does to our process. A sampling of prior Dividist posts on the topic:
Thanks but no thanks. The Dividist will gladly take the gridlock. If a divided Congress find it impossible to agree on principled bipartisan compromises to spend our money without greasing congressional palms with earmarks and kickbacks, then the Dividist is perfectly fine with not spending the money at all. In fact, given that alternative, we are delighted with a do-nothing Congress. Gridlock is good.

Speaking of fetishizing "getting things done"...  At the same time the administration continues to flog their favorite whipping boy -  the "Do Nothing Congress" they have the Chutzpah to pat themselves on the back tweeting about the dramatic deficit reduction during their tenure:
We'll ignore the massive distortion introduced into this graph as noted in the small print (we're just not going to count the almost trillion dollar  Porkulus bill). Even so, it is absolutely clear that the majority of the deficit reduction took place since the the GOP took control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and divided the government. So -  let me fix that graph for you Mr. President:

Thank you divided government, gridlock, and GOP House of Representatives. 

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