We the people are witnessing the stirrings of one of the truly rare events in nature; our Congress in action. The Senate has taken the extraordinary step of actually acting on a trio of bills in the same month; the food safety package, the START treaty ratification process, and the now infamous Obamadeal with the Republicans. The House, which in fairness is usually quite active, moved on the politically controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. In view of all this auspicious activity, writing a column on sports this evening seemed frivolous.
But then, Congress is something of a sport for me. Much like a football game, I enjoy watching the battle while trying to anticipate the next move. The next move in politics, incidentally, is rarely as complicated as modern professional football strategy. The only real variables are money, time, and political polling. Please don’t misunderstand, The Rational Middle does not believe in a Congress without principles, far from it. I believe that most politicians, from both parties, genuinely care about their nation and retain their principles throughout their careers. I also believe, however, that politicians must be pragmatic, lest they not be around the next time their principles need defending.
The archetypal American politician works the rope lines at small town parades, shaking hands and kissing babies. Politicians also like to give out tokens of their appreciation to the constituency, party favors and earmarks usually go over well. This is a time-honored ritual that is not without redeeming qualities. Representatives serve at the pleasure, and for the benefit, of the citizens in their districts. Good constituent service, and the ability to remember someone’s name, go along way with the average voter.
Other redeeming qualities long appreciated, have fallen under scrutiny in these volatile times. Earmarks, as an example, used to be a measuring stick for the effectiveness of a member of Congress. The items now derisively referred to as pork-barrel spending are nothing more or less than targeted line items; projects in the district that allow federal taxes harvested from the area to return to the area. Having spent some time looking at earmarks myself, I have seen some crazy ones. But most voters would be surprised at the rather mundane and mostly reasonable list of projects completed with federal tax dollars. Far from the vagaries of the main body of the federal budget, earmarks represent transparent spending that is easy to track and evaluate.