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article imageOp-Ed: 'Please pass the pork'

By John Rickman     Feb 13, 2009 in Politics
As the “Bush Recession” tightens its grip on the American economy's windpipe, and the new Obama administration works feverishly to break its stranglehold, one term keeps popping up on the lips of Republican politicians and Right Wing pundits—pork.
To hear the anguished cries of these worthies one would think that “pork” was a crime on a par with murder, rape, armed robbery or leaving the toilet seat up. So the question naturally arises, “what is pork and why is it so bad.”
“The term pork barrel politics usually refers to “spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes.”
So “pork” is when a politician appropriates money for projects that will make his constituents, the people who elected him or her, happy. Hmm, that doesn’t sound so bad. After all, isn’t that why we elect politicians in the first place -- to champion our interests in the legislature?
Then why is the term such an anathema to some politicians and pundits? Many of these people would broaden the term to mean “frivolous or unnecessary” spending. Projects like Republican Senator Steven’s famous “bridge to nowhere”
The losing team of McCain/Palin were big critics of what they were pleased to call “pork,” and cited numerous examples of projects that they considered egregious wastes of tax payer’s money. At one speech before a sympathetic audience Palin, the whiner from Wasilla, regaled her supporters with such horror stories as fruit fly research in (shudder) “Paris France.”
“Sometimes these dollars they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris France. I kid you not!”
What the Governor did not realize was that the Mediterranean fruit fly is a very real and very serious danger to America’s agriculture industry and that the particular strain that was being studied was a particular threat to California’s multimillion dollar olive crop.
So the project could hardly be called frivolous, nor a waste of tax payers money. Since France, a country with a Mediterranean coast, also had a well established research project studying how to combat these pests it would seem logical that the most “bang for the buck” the American tax payers could get for their tax dollars would be to invest in an ongoing project that had a track record of getting results.
McCain, who at the time had not yet mastered the complex technology necessary to send or receive an e-mail, was particularly incensed by Obama’s vote to fund an “overhead projector” for a planetarium.
He voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork-barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?
McCain, Oct. 7
Overhead projector
The short answer of course is—YES! What the senator from Arizona did not understand was that without a “planetarium projector” having a planetarium is rather pointless and the point of having a planetarium in the first place is to teach science—a topic American students are notoriously behind in when compared with the students of other developed nations.
Planetarium Projector
But the debate over “pork” should not be fought over the merits or demerits of any one project, It should center on what the role of the Federal government is in “providing for the common welfare” of the citizens of the United States.
One of the hallmarks of the “Reagan Revolution” has been what President Obama has called a “knee-jerk disdain for government.” There are many conservatives who still parrot Reagan’s foolish claim that “government is not the solution, government is the problem.”
However, after three decades of declining living standards, a vanishing middle class, stagnant wages and the largest transfer of wealth from the average person to the super wealthy in history, many Americans are finally waking up to realize they have been sold a bill of goods by the supporters of those who most benefit from stripping away the protections that government provides its citizens and lowering taxes—the wealthy, the greedy and the predators.
In order to provide tax cuts for the wealthy while fighting two unnecessary and poorly managed wars, Republicans have failed to maintain this nation’s shared infrastructure, our roads, our schools, our bridges and the communication network that binds us together as a nation. As a result we have had bridges fall down, killing people in the process, and almost lost a major American city from the effects of failing to maintain the levees around New Orleans.
We, as a nation, have also failed to maintain the social safety net that not only protects the poor or unfortunate among us from disaster, but also helps protect our entire society from the full effects of shared hardships, such as the current economic crisis. What many who disdain government’s role in helping those in need fail to understand is that by helping those people the government is ultimately helping us all.
The economic research firm of Moody's, one of the most respected and conservative voices in the field, recently released a report that examined the stimulus impact of various types of government action. What they found was that for every dollar spent on tax cuts the economy received a dollar and a nickel’s worth of stimulus compared to over a dollar fifty for infrastructure projects and a whopping dollar seventy nine for food stamps.
That’s right; food stamps could help save the American economy. To understand why we must first understand what a “recession” is in the first place. Simply put, a recession is when supply exceeds demand. It is as simple as that; there is more “stuff” to buy in an economy than there are consumers willing, and able, to buy it.
Please note that I said “willing and ABLE.” We are all willing to buy all sorts of things that we are not able to afford. I, for one, am willing to buy a castle on the Rhine and a private jet to get there but, alas, I am not able to afford it.
The poor are willing to buy food, clothes and housing, but many of them simply are not able to. They have to choose which from the list it is going to be. If they buy more clothes or housing they cannot afford enough food to feed their families. Food stamps not only allow the poor to buy more food, they also allow them to divert funds formally spent on food to other spending. And it is spending that is the key to ending a recession. If someone does not buy all the excess “stuff” that sellers have, then there is no point in investing in factories to make more stuff or businesses to sell it.
The rich are of no help in this. They already have most of the “stuff” they want and will only waste any money we give them through tax cuts and the like or paying down their debt or investing it—neither of which are of the least use in taming a recession. Only spending can do that, and spending by the lower rungs of the economic ladder give us the most “bang for the buck.”
That is why, during this economic crisis, we need more pork in our political diet. The two “controls” that government has for managing the economy, taxes and spending were, prior to Reagan’s “Voodoo Economics,” used to heat up the economy through spending or to cool it off through taxes.
If the economy starts to lag, the government “steps on the gas” and spends more. If the economy gets too hot, and inflation starts to suck value from people’s savings, investments and property and to decrease the value of money, then taxes helps suck up a lot of that “excess money,” making the remaining money in the economy worth more and paying off the debts run up during periods of government spending.
The important side effect of such a government policy is that government spending, also known as “pork” to its critics, helps to improve the “commons,” those things that we, as a society, hold in common. Failing to understand the role of government, many conservatives continue to cling to the notion that everything will “fix itself” if only government will simply get out of the way. We are now in the midst of a economic crisis caused in large part by getting the government out of the way of regulations and by not guarding against the excesses of the financial markets such as the predatory lending practices of the banks and out of the business of providing for the “common welfare.”
Speaking before the Abraham Lincoln Association President Obama said:
"Such knee-jerk disdain for government - this constant rejection of any common endeavor - cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges…It cannot refurbish our schools or modernize our health care system; lead to the next medical discovery or yield the research and technology that will spark a clean energy economy."
It also cannot save us from the Bush Recession. Only government spending, what Republicans call “pork” can do that!
So, shall we add another slice of pork to the stimulus package?
You betcha!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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