Last week Friend of Unfair Park Shaggy predicted that the Tea Party will get over its aversion to congressional earmarks in however long it takes for the Triple R's (Really Really Rich People) to get Dick Armey to convey the new post-election marching orders down to the tri-cornered-hat persons:
"Earmarks won't go away," Shaggy wrote. "They'll be renamed. After all, the TEA platform is all red herring. The big money-power players who contrived the TEA coalition don't really care if the gay folk marry, or if President Obama spends his days planting ACORNs on the White House lawn or if chemtrails are real or not. It's all red herring fodder to get all the 'bubbas' and 'bubbettes' to passionately rise up and vote Republican."
Four days later Minnesota Republican congresswoman and Bubette Par Excellence Michele Bachmann, often called "Leader of the Tea Party in the House," announced she wanted to "clarify the definition of 'earmarks' and exclude transportation projects from that category of pork spending," according to a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"Advocating for transportation projects for one's district in my mind does not equate to an earmark," Bachmann told the newspaper. "I don't believe that building roads and bridges and interchanges should be considered an earmark... There's a big difference between funding a tea pot museum and a bridge over a vital waterway."
Well, yes. Bridges are important. If you try to drive over a big river without one, misfortune will befall. But the question is: What bridge? And: What river?
A story in The New York Times today is a good illustration: Missouri Senator Christopher S. Bond, a Republican, says he got the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fix the levees along the Mississippi in St. Louis because he wrangled an earmark. So he's pro-earmark.
He says it's him against the bad bureaucrats who don't care about people. He gets things done with earmarks, because he's good people. Bad bureaucrats who don't care about people don't. But Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is anti-earmark. She told The Times the St. Louis project would have gotten done a long time ago if other senators and representatives hadn't cobbed the money away from it for their own earmarks.
"It would be a slam dunk if the process was always about merit," she said. "The reason it hadn't gotten funded is that money was stolen by some other senator for a project that wasn't as meritorious."
Yeah. Do we really believe road and bridge projects are about good people and bad people?
More likely it's about sticking to rules and budgets in order to make sense of things. An earmark is like a CEO in the private sector laying off hundreds of people but giving fat raises instead to everybody in shipping because, "My poor brother-in-law who is struggling valiantly with substance abuse problems works down there."
We have the perfect teaching example for all of this here in Dallas, of course - the Trinity River Project. Last Saturday another Friend of Unfair Park, "A-nony-mouse," turned me on to a great interactive map on the city's website that lets you see where all the flood zones are in the city. Altruistic journalist that I am, I immediately looked up my own house. Oh, damn! Right smack in the middle of the Peak's Creek flood zone. That must be why we get all those floods.
My wife and I bought this house 200 years ago, and I distinctly remember an insurance agent laughing at me when I asked if I needed flood insurance. He made some joke about Noah. I forget the punch line, maybe because I was the punch line. Shows what he knew.
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We have voted for bond money in this city that was supposed to be devoted to fixing these "internal drainage issues" (buried creeks). But now, because we've screwed up our priorities so badly with that stupid Trinity River project, they're going to take all that money away from us and use it to fix the levees instead along the river.
If it weren't for the earmark money, not to mention the time and energy devoted to the bogus Trinity project, we could have spent this time and money seriously addressing flooding issues in Dallas on a rational comprehensive basis.
That's how it's supposed to work. We craft a systematic approach to these infrastructure issues, which, after all, are mainly problems in engineering. We figure out how to assign the money. And we enact all of that into law and regulation.
Then some demagogue comes along, usually hooked at the elbow with a real estate slick, and together they hack all of it apart in order to fund a side-deal, called an earmark. This isn't even about Democrats, Republicans or Tea. It's more about us voters, all of us, being suckers.