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?

NEXT: Pretty Stories Make Graves

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I live in Bonilla’s district. He’s going to get a good cockpunching from me next time he’s in town.

  2. Good post. Not worth posting 7 times, though.

  3. See, the difference between Cunningham and the others in Congress is that Cunningham was honest about being for sale, and had a price list posted right up front.

    The others claim that they’re not for sale, so you never really know when you’ve bought their vote for sure…

  4. Perpetual sigh… Oh, if only we could elect the right people to office.

  5. Shots fired at the Rayburn House Office Building…


  6. Is what distinguishes Bonilla and Obey from Cunningham and Abramoff a matter of diligent investigation? If they have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t object to one.

  7. Hands,

    Maybe that was Jefferson.

  8. “I don’t think that we need to drag in a reference to an obscene player in the game like Mr. Abramoff.”

    Subtext: “He got caught.”

  9. I just wrote a nice letter to Mr Flake expressing my gratitude for actually believing in the United States envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

  10. Lowdog – while you’re at it, ask him to stick around another term. He’s got to be better than whatever will follow.

  11. O, for the virtuous legislator content to steal other people’s money for their own good.

    – Josh

  12. Penguin – I did.

  13. Unfortunately, I’m not in his district.

    But I did tell him he makes me proud to live in AZ. Since he’s an AZ native, that oughta count for something. 🙂

  14. Flake appears to have ambitions for higher office. While that may seem a bit hypocritical, he mostly spits against the wind in the position he’s in now.

    He’s already broken his promise to limit himself to two terms by running again this time.

    The two obvious jobs would be Governor or for McCain’s vacated seat should he win the presidency or retire in 2008. He passed on running for governor this time out.

    My favorite Flake comment was after Flake was the one ‘nay’ in a 423-1 vote in favor of Financial Literacy Month.

    “Congress is in no position to teach Americans how to manage their finances.”

  15. Again – sure, he’s a politician, so it’s not like I’m going to give him an entirely free pass. He’s also a mormon, and while I’ve known plenty of mormons who are great people, there’s plenty of loons in that religion, too. Maybe not a higher percentage than any other sub-group of human beings, but some of the teachings of the LDS church do seem to lean to the nutty side.

    That being said, the more he can get his message out of restraining the spending of the gov’t, the better.

  16. He’s also a mormon…

    Actually the doctrine of free agency that mormons subscribe to leads to a lot of libertarian sounding rhetoric in the political statements of mormons.

    However, anybody who has ever lived in Utah knows that there is a huge divide between the mormons’ rhetoric on the subject and the political implementation.

  17. Isaac – true that. But they also tend to be exclusionary, as in, they don’t like other groups. Which is one of the things that got them kicked out of Illinois(?) before they moved to Utah.

  18. I don’t know much about Flake even if he is my Congressman, but whenever I do hear something about him he usually seems to be on the good side of things (from my perspective anyway).

    Oddly enough, I’ve never been represented by a Congress-critter that I hated. Montgomery County, Maryland (where I used to live), is a hugely liberal place politically but for some reason, up through Connie Morella at least, they always elected very centrist type candidates to Congress, such as the liberal Republican Gilbert Gude.

  19. Lowdog,

    You need to learn your history before bandying about terms like “exclusionary”. Mormons were driven out of places like Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, or New York because they were different – on the frontier, they worked hard and created something that others couldn’t or wouldn’t. So these others burned it down.

    Isaac – You don’t understand agency either (it’s not free agency). This gives folks the ability to choose for themselves, right or wrong. Unfortunately, even Mormons can choose incorrectly, and sometimes especially when in government. Harry Reid comes to mind…

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.