Government Spending

Why Pork Barrel Spending Is Called Such (and Why the Term Is Couched in America's Racist Past)

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From the current issue of the always great American Heritage magazine comes a short piece by Hugh Rawson that provides the etymology of the term "pork-barrel spending," whose first usage in American political discourse dates back to around 1909. 

It's an eye-opener:

The metaphor stems from the practice in the pre-refrigeration era of preserving pork in large wooden barrels of brine. The political usage may have been inspired by the distribution of rations of salt pork to slaves on plantations. "Oftenitmes the eagerness of the slaves would result in a rush upon the pork barrel, "wrote a 'journalist' named C.C. Maxey in 1919, "in which each would strive to grab as much as possible for himself. Member of Congress in the stampede to get their local appropriation items into the omnibus river and harbor bills behaved so much like negro slaves rushing the pork barrel, that these bills were facetiously styled 'pork-barrel' bills."

Rawson closes with the wonderful quote from a Senate chaplain in the early 20th century. Asked whether he prayed for the senators, the man of the cloth responded, "No, I look at the senators and pray for the country."

The full story is not yet posted at the American Heritage site, which is still certainly worthing rummaging through for a few hours on any given day.

NEXT: Natural Born Communists?

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  1. If only Congress were more niggardly with our money we might not have such a racist term in use.

  2. “The full story is not yet posted at the American Heritage site, which is still certainly worthing [sic] rummaging through for a few hours on any given day.”

  3. Muslims don’t eat pork, so there’s that, too.

  4. I guess pickle-barrel spending would sound too darn crispy and delicious.

  5. Great Pharaoh Oftenitmes?

  6. This of course means that we won’t be allowed to criticise the spending habits of Congress anymore, especially the Democrats in it.

  7. Hey, Democrats don’t do porkbarrel spending.

    They invest in their local communities.

    Didn’t you get the memo?

  8. And besides, it’s always for the chillins.

  9. If only Congress were more niggardly with our money we might not have such a racist term in use.

    We need a new rule for the Hit & Run Drinking Game – every time someone uses the word “racist”, do a shot.

    OTOH, if we do that, everyone will be unconscious by 10:00 AM.

    Fuggedaboutit….

  10. Pig Mannix,

    I gave up on the proper usage of “racist” a long time ago.

  11. Unlike slaves running for food, though, congress gets to decide how much pork is in the barrel in the first place, so instead of it becoming a race to get as much as you can out of a limited budget, it’s basically a competition to see who can rn the bill up the most.

  12. We need a new rule for the Hit & Run Drinking Game – every time someone uses the word “racist”, do a shot.

    I have recently retained the firm of Solitary, Poore, Nasty, Brutish, and Short.

    Reason will be receiving a letter from Mr Nasty seeking compensation for the permanent liver damage I have suffered due to the Hit and Run drinking game.

  13. Pork barrels were pretty common aboard sailing ships, too. And anywhere else you needed to store food before refrigeration became widely available.

    Seems like if most folks need to be taught that something is racist before they recognize it as racist, it isn’t racist.

  14. How about the saying, “There’s more fat in that bill than in a pork barrel.”

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