Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Say Bai To Credibility

(Lots going on with your humble narrator before he heads out of town; while most everybody else has gone south to Austin, I’m going north to a true liberal haven, if you will. But first…)

It’s taken me a little while to get to this, but last Sunday, the New York Times magazine carried this feature written by Matt Bai about the McCain and Obama campaigns, ostensibly communicating the theme that they’re “reformers” (warning: more of the dreaded “conventional wisdom” ahead).

And with a bit of a nod to this prior post, Bai tells us…

McCain, however, takes a personal and confrontational approach toward reform, which he sees fundamentally as a matter of overhauling the rules that govern Washington. By this thinking, a Rough-Rider-type leader should press for tough measures — publicizing earmarks, for example — that insulate legislators from moneyed interests.
I hate to break the news to Bai, but even though there is more work to be done on the matter of earmark reform (once again, as long as they’re disclosed, I personally don’t have a problem), I should communicate the following from here, in which President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History tried to seize some imaginary (for him) moral high ground on the matter…

Earmarks today are far fewer in number and out in the open for all to see. Both the number and dollar amount of earmarks reached an all-time high during the last Congress (the 109th) with Republicans firmly in control of both chambers and the White House – with 13,997 earmarks worth $27.3 billion in 2005 and 9,963 earmarks worth $29 billion in 2006. But this year, under the new 110th Congress, earmarks plummeted to only 2,658 earmarks worth $13.2 billion in 2007, and 11,043 earmarks worth $14.1 billion in omnibus appropriations and related bills for 2008 – a reduction in the amount of earmarks by half.

Just as importantly, earmarks are no longer secret. It used to be that pet spending projects were quietly inserted into massive spending bills. Not any more. The new reforms require each earmark to be clearly identified and assigned a sponsor – and posted on the Internet 48 hours before a vote. Committee reports even put this information in chart format.

The Bush administration and the 109th Congress loved the out-of-control system of earmarks, hidden from the public. But now that the 110th Congress has reined in earmark abuse and opened the books – “bridges to nowhere” earmarks are no more to be found in the new budget bills – Bush feigns that he is at the head of the pack on earmark reform.
And Bai also sneaks in the following dig…

It’s certainly possible that the campaign we have now is the one we’ll get after the conventions — a campaign about who’s patriotic and who’s out of touch, inevitably driven by the darker subtexts of age and race. Chances are better, though, that the old soldier and the young orator will ultimately drift back toward the less dogmatic political space in which they are most at home. This certainly wouldn’t please the net-roots and religious warriors whose demand for partisan government has come to shape the environment.
For Bai’s information, the “netroots” is not about a “demand for partisan government” (I mean, this guy just wrote a book on the subject, for crying out loud). This is another echo of the cry that the “netroots” are just a bunch of dirty hippies screaming about Bush, insulting our troops and fervently supporting “the homosexual agenda,” whatever on earth that is.

The reality, however, is that the “netroots” is a broad-based coalition of progressive, Democratic activists who support candidates across a wide spectrum, from pro-gun individuals to anti-choicers, if need be (common sense social conservatism fits in quite nicely with us, thank you, even if it means that we agree to disagree at times).

I don’t mean to ridicule Bai’s call for change, which is the right attitude I believe. I just would prefer that he not “dress that up” with the same tautologies that we’ve already come to detest about this campaign.

Update 7/18/08: Daily Kos person BarbinMD does a better job of explaining how "the left" (including the netroots) is actually pretty mainstream here.

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