He's Obscene—We're Merely Indecent


In his unsuccessful effort to remove earmarks for dairy education, local museum construction, and other vitally important national projects from spending bills Congress is considering this week, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) went too far rhetorically. Or so says Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), who was offended by remarks in which Flake mentioned felonious former California congressman Randy Cunningham and larcenous lobbyist Jack Abramoff while condemning pork:

"We have one of our former members in jail right now for basically selling earmarks," Mr. Flake said. "He was able to get his earmarks through the legislative process without being challenged. Jack Abramoff reportedly referred to the Appropriations Committee as an 'earmark favor factory.'"

"Really bad form," said Bonilla, referring not to the actions of Cunningham and Abramoff but to Flake's indelicacy in bringing them up. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the senior Democrat at the earmark favor factory, seconded the sentiment: "I don't think that we need to drag in a reference to an obscene player in the game like Mr. Abramoff."

Like most of their colleagues, Bonilla and Obey think buying votes with other people's money is perfectly honorable–indeed, something (unlike respecting the Constitution) they are obligated to do as the people's representatives. Hence it is light years away from the blatant corruption represented by such malefactors as Cunningham and Abramoff. Flake's point, which Bonilla and Obey pretended to miss, was that the earmark system, by allowing legislators to quietly slip in funding for pet projects, invites such corruption.

But pork is also a form of corruption in itself, involving the use of taxpayer money not to perform the legitimate functions of the federal government but to serve the legislator's own interest–in this case, staying in power, which brings with it all sorts of perks. Cunningham did pretty much the same thing, bringing federal money to his district at the behest of his constituents, except that he got some additional goodies in the process. If the actions are the same, does the antique armoire make all the difference?