Monday, September 15, 2008

Talking about earmarks

Yesterday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Claire McCaskill and Carly Fiorina went a couple of rounds on earmarks. You can read their argument for yourself but basically it came down to McCaskill saying Palin claims to oppose earmarks but asked for gazillions of dollars in them and Fiorina saying Obama asked for even more and at least Palin as governor acknowledged they were corrupting and wanted to ask for fewer of them. McCaskill finished up with:

She took the money for the bridge to nowhere. She took -- she hired lobbyists to get earmarks.

This is a woman who has been lobbying for earmarks, has received earmarks. As a mayor, as a governor.

This is a good example of what I’m talking about. You know, honor is talked about a lot in this campaign. Honor comes with honesty. And you’ve got to be honest about the facts.

Sarah Palin has been an earmark queen in Alaska. That’s the facts.

Setting aside the specific issue of earmarks for a moment, I’d advise Obama supporters to step very cautiously around the issues of honor and honesty. Challenging someone’s honor or honesty is still a fighting offense to a lot of people and the Obama campaign better have more to back up those charges than cries of outrage over the type of spin, hyperbole, and political license that all campaigns - including most definitely the Obama campaign - practice all the time.

More on topic, I wonder if an “earmark queen” is anything like a “welfare queen”?

Back to the fray. Fiorina’s last word on earmarks was (emphasis mine):

Sarah Palin has made significant reforms and significant progress in the amount of earmark money that Alaska takes. She stood up as governor and said, “we must reform this corrupting process.”

It is true that as mayor, she worked within the system that she was a part of, but it is also true that she stepped forward against her own party and said enough is enough.

I think Fiorina is on the right track with regard to how Palin’s people should be talking about earmarks. The way to address the discrepancy between wanting to reform the earmark process and taking earmarks is to be up front about the whole thing. Admit that of course Palin asked for earmarks. Everybody asks for earmarks. Look at all the earmarks Obama asked for. If Palin hadn’t asked for earmarks for Wasilla and for Alaska she would have been putting her city and her state at a disadvantage with regard to other government that were asking for and getting Federal money. That’s why she understands how important it is to reform the whole system: as long as earmarks exist local officials have to make use of them to stay competitive and to stay in office. A corrupt system inevitably corrupts everything and everyone it touches and that’s why she wants to change the system itself.


S said...

As always an informative and thought provoking post, Elise.

I have never been sure though that the earmark process is in itself corrupt. It is rather the way it is used by some that is corrupt. While I'm no big fan of spending money unwisely, earmarks - as you point out - can fund useful projects that make a state more prosperous and competitive. They provide jobs. In many cases they build local infrastructure. Last week on CNBC someone - whose name, unfortunately, I do not recall - said that all the earmarks in the budget amount to a rounding error. Given the events of the last few days I believe that in the coming days that amount will seem like change on the coffee table.

Elise said...

Well, you were certainly right about the earmarks total seeming like loose change. Sheesh!