Friday, February 19, 2010

Political 'Conviction'?

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There are those who think it did no good, others who think it was too big, some who think it wasn't big enough. Still there are others who think the focus was wrong: it should have been focused on jobs; banks and financial institutions, and the auto industry shouldn't have been bailed out. Arguments can be made on both sides. As a matter of fact, they have and they will.

I personally believe that the ARRA is a qualified success and the degree to which it has been unsuccessful is the point at which we have to realize just how bad the economy was and how much fiscal danger this country was in.

The rebound has obviously has not been as robust as anyone would want. And we still have to do something about jobs - fair enough.

But is it fair to evaluate the effectiveness of the stimulus by the criticisms of those who were against it before they were for it?

"Sen. Christopher S. Bond regularly railed against President Obama's economic stimulus plan as irresponsible spending that would drive up the national debt. But behind the scenes, the Missouri Republican quietly sought more than $50 million from a federal agency for two projects in his state."

"Mr. Bond was not alone. More than a dozen Republican lawmakers, while denouncing the stimulus to the media and their constituents, privately sent letters to just one of the federal government's many agencies seeking stimulus money for home-state pork projects."

"The letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, expose the gulf between lawmakers' public criticism of the overall stimulus package and their private lobbying for projects close to home."

""It's not illegal to talk out of both sides of your mouth, but it does seem to be a level of dishonesty troubling to the American public," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington."

"In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mr. Bond noted that one project applying to the USDA for stimulus money would "create jobs and ultimately spur economic opportunities.""

Of course there is a reason for the apparent, shall we say...mixed message?

"He and other lawmakers make no apologies for privately seeking stimulus money after they voted against it and continue to criticize the plan: "I strongly opposed the stimulus, but the only thing that could make it worse would be if none of it returned to the taxpayers of Missouri," said Mr. Bond, who is retiring."

"But watchdog groups say the lawmakers' public talk and private letters don't square, highlighting a side of government spending largely overshadowed by the "earmarking" process."

"While members of Congress must disclose their earmarks — or pet projects they slip into broader spending bills — the private funding requests they make in letters to agencies fall outside of the public's view."

And why, oh why would these Republicans, who branded the stimulus as 'waste', 'socialism', 'placing debt on the backs of our children', go home and celebrate taking the money?

"Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican who became famous after yelling, "You lie," during Mr. Obama's addresses to Congress in September, voted against the stimulus. Nonetheless, Mr. Wilson elbowed his way into the rush for federal stimulus cash in a letter he sent to Mr. Vilsack on behalf of a foundation seeking funding."

""We know their endeavor will provide jobs and investment in one of the poorer sections of the Congressional District," he wrote to Mr. Vilsack in the Aug. 26, 2009, letter."

But, Congressman Wilson isn't by himself!

Two days before Sen. Robert F. Bennett, Utah Republican, issued a statement criticizing the stimulus he wrote Mr. Vilsack providing a list of projects seeking stimulus money, saying "I believe the addition of federal funds to these projects would maximize the stimulative effect of these projects on the local economy."

And what about Rep. Pat Tiberi, Ohio Republican who in classic GOP fashion said the ARRA "saddles future generations with mountains of debt"? Well he had a project to, about which he said, "While this project is intended to expand rural broadband in Alaska, I understand that the project could support businesses and jobs in communities across the country," Mr. Tiberi wrote, citing one such company in his district.

There are more examples of what it means to legislate according to one's convictions.

The nature of democratic politics is supposed to be messy. There are times when the messiness gets personal. The Founding Fathers were hardly practitioners of kid gloves politics. And there are always examples of hypocrisy, dissembling and downright dishonesty on the part of elected officials. One hates to admit it, but governing is not easy, and nor are politicians motives always pure. We can strive for the ideal, but grown-ups understand that we fall short.

But come on!

All this angst about 'our children's future'; the 'failure' of the stimulus; and then running to the trough to make sure that one's 'constituents' get their 'fair share'?!

What's more, fanning the flames of discontent and even hatred by pandering to the fears of the public while at the same time seeking political benefit from the very legislation that you publicly brand as 'socialist'?

It all seems a little much.

Let me make this as clear as possible: one can challenge, legitimately the policies of an administration. You can question, whether policy proposals are good for the country. If you want to trot out 'ideas' that have been tried and never worked, as an alternative, that too is a proper response to ideas with which you disagree. But once you do all of that, haven't you taken yourself out of the game, with regard to benefits of the legislation you've opposed? Unless you actually have the heart to admit, 'You know, we've tried and we've lost, so we're going to see if these ideas work'? And once you do that, don't you forfeit the right to claim that the very policies that from which you seek political gain are 'socialist'; 'placing debt on the backs of our children'; 'won't produce jobs'?! And by the way, if you seek to benefit from the policy, and tout the benefits from the policies you have proposed, aren't you then obligated to give those policies the time to work that you would have given your policies had your efforts prevailed?

The 'messiness' of democracy aside, is there a point when statesmanship trumps partisanship?

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