Conservatism

The High Price of Republican Hypocrisy

Crony capitalism, big government boondoggles, and other GOP failures

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Republicans are hypocrites about sex, it is sometimes said, and Democrats are hypocrites about money. It is true that GOP politicians keep getting caught with their pants down, while limousine liberals are free with other people's money and misers with their own. But this is not the whole story. Republicans are hypocrites about both sex and money.

Take the recent Newsweek story on "The Tea Party Pork Binge." The only time GOP politicians stop criticizing government handouts, it seems, is to ask for them. Which happens a lot.

The story leads off with Virginia's Eric Cantor, who sought billions for high-speed rail in the Old Dominion while he was blasting a similar project in Nevada. (Cantor's office told the mag the House majority leader has since changed his mind.) It's the same with Fred Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He's currently investigating the Energy Department's sweetheart loan guarantees to Solyndra. Two years ago, though, he was seeking millions from the department for projects in his home state of Michigan.

Newsweek isn't the first to plow this ground. The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste has detailed the more than $1 billion in earmarks sought by members of the so-called Tea Party caucus. South Carolina's Tim Scott sought $300 million for harbor dredging. Jon Runyan of New Jersey fought for federal beach-replenishment funds. The examples pile up to heights of ridiculous redundancy.

The Tea Party's proletariat is not pleased. "It's pretty disturbing," Judson Phillips, co-founder of Tea Party Nation, tells Newsweek.

But grounds for disillusionment don't end there. Republicans routinely utter shibboleths about the free market. Yet in practice they often substitute government's hand for the invisible one.

Take Rick Perry. He sings the praises of "the free-market enterprise [system] I grew up with." But in Texas, his Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund have shoveled nearly $650 million of the taxpayers' money into the pockets of private corporations, either by purchasing equity stakes or simply by giving companies cash to relocate. Conservative groups have called the programs "slush funds" and termed Perry "more pro-business than he is pro-free markets."

You could say the same about a lot of GOP governors, including Virginia's Bob McDonnell. This year he cut funds for public broadcasting, and was right to do so. But he also has ladled out lots of money from his Opportunity Fund to companies setting up shop in the Old Dominion. And he's happily giving millions to Steven Spielberg, who is shooting a Lincoln biopic here.

Yet even when he isn't using discretionary funds, McDonnell—like his predecessors—is quick to "announce" new jobs in press releases about any corporate relocations or expansions. The announcements imply, not very subtly, that the governor deserves credit for the jobs. Often that isn't really so; logistics, demographics and many other factors play a far bigger role in corporate decision-making than whatever ancillary help a company might get from the Department of Business Assistance. But "Governor McDonnell Announces 75 New Jobs in Yoknapatawpha County" makes it sound as if the tail is wagging the dog. (Funny how governors never "announce" job cuts, such as the 425 layoffs Smithfield disclosed yesterday.)

Laissez-faire is not the only GOP custom honored more in the breach than in the observance. Remember constitutional authority statements? Under the new House regime, bill sponsors were supposed to cite the relevant constitutional language granting Congress the power to do whatever the bill specified.

And none of that nonsense about the Commerce Clause or the General-Welfare Clause or the Necessary-and-Proper Clause. Conservatives argued, reasonably enough, that those clauses did not grant Congress the unlimited authority to regulate everything and to do whatever it thought was necessary and proper to promote the general welfare. If that were the case, then the Framers would not have bothered to enumerate Congress's specific powers in Article 1, Section 8. Nor would they have referred to "all legislative powers herein granted" in Section 1, which implies some legislative powers are withheld.

So what have Republicans been citing to justify bills on laser pointers, federal aid for veterinarians, charter schools, and more? The Commerce Clause. The General-Welfare Clause. The Necessary-and-Proper Clause.

You can draw several conclusions from all of this. You can view it as proof that, for all their distinction-drawing, Republicans and Democrats are not much different. Or that all politicians are just lying dogs who don't mean a word of what they say. Or that they do mean it, but that once in office they tend to "go native." Or (more charitably) that they are human like the rest of us, and pulled in different directions by competing imperatives.

In the pols' defense, one might recall Francois de La Rochefoucauld's maxim that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. That it is. But it would be nice if more Republicans paid the tribute out of their own pockets, instead of ours.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.