Last year while campaigning, Barack Obama promised that, as president, he would go through the federal budget "line by line" to make sure it was absent any pork, earmarks, Christmas ornaments, and any other kinds of kitschy euphemisms for special-interest funding.
The masses applauded, and the media swooned. Finally, a politician who would bring the word “No” to Washington.
But with the evolution of this massive $825 billion stimulus package, festooned with all the garish baubles that had been collecting dust in Democrat storage, he has proven himself a bit of a fibber or, at best, a nimble and agile stretcher of the truth. At least, let’s all hope so.
Better to believe that President Obama left the crafting of this bill to the Democrats, and gave it just a cursory glance afterward. Because if he really did go through Nancy Pelosi’s laundry list of long-term spending requests – line by line – the implications are troubling.
First, there’s the obvious contradiction. If he did sign off on every single, incredulous pork allocation in the Tolstoyian-sized tome, well, he’s quite simply – and inarguably – not the president he said he would be. By any definition, $400 million for global warming research, $1 billion to bail out Amtrak, $335 million for sexually transmitted disease prevention and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts is pork. It is the porkiest of pork. It is a grizzled, dripping-wet, sizzling pile of pork chops, wrapped in ham, sprinkled with bacon bits. It is, as Charlotte herself would have put it succinctly, “Some Pig.”
And the Democrats aren’t even coy about it. In early January, Obama told reporters, “We're not having earmarks in the recovery package. Period.” This was not a lie. Earmarks attempt to hide pork-barrel spending, and this bill advertises it with the subtlety of a Super Bowl commercial – inside there’s the political equivalent of half-naked chicks, catchy pop songs, chimpanzees and celebrity endorsements at every turn.
But far more sinister than broken promises (after all, it would hardly be the first time a candidate went back on his word) is the very idea that President Obama could have actually gone through this bill and thought, “Let’s see how much we can get away with.”
Frighteningly, it seems as though this was his mentality. It took the outrage of the media and the general public – ironically, his two most loyal contingents – to tell the president that contraception, for one, is not stimulus. Re-sodding the National Mall isn’t either. Arts funding? Still no. And, after continued vigorous defense by Obama’s office, those items were eventually dropped.
Did the president really need us to tell him that birth control and a new lawn aren’t appropriate items for an emergency stimulus package? He didn’t already know that? And would he have left them in otherwise?
President Obama is a pleaser, it seems – a yes-man. He allowed the Democrats to jam 40 years of comeuppance into what he probably wished in his heart was a lean-and-mean engine of economic recovery. And then to avoid being momentarily unpopular, he caved to public scrutiny by scratching the challenged items. That he actually thought he could win Republican support is mind-boggling.
Maybe I’ve seen one too many Frank Capra movies. In my version, whoever inherited this mess would have stormed into Washington and written an economic-recovery bill themself, instead of jettisoning it off to one party or the other. It would take into consideration the advice of financial advisers and it would reflect the sobriety, urgency and gravity of this dire situation. Any requests for pork barrel spending or earmarks would be immediately – and publicly – rebuffed as partisan, unseemly, inappropriate and greedy panhandling. I can just imagine Jimmy Stewart coming across Nancy Pelosi’s outrageous contraception request and saying, “Anybody here that thinks I'm gonna do that, they've got another thing comin'! Either I’m dead right or I’m crazy!”
Instead, it’s not just politics as usual, but politics at its worst. Where’s the guy who vowed to say “No?” I’m beginning to think “Yes We Can” was more than just a campaign slogan. Maybe it’s actually a leadership style.
And Republicans should pay close attention. They are looking to unite around a common message over the next two and four years in an effort to regain strength and rebrand the party. Fiscal responsibility should be that message. If the Obama administration keeps this up, Republicans will have a far easier time winning back voters than originally expected.
We should all want the stimulus package to undergo significant changes as it is navigated through the Senate. For all our sakes, let’s hope it looks nothing like its current iteration – I don’t even want to know they were once related, in fact. But even if the mind-blowing pork that’s in there now undergoes substantial liposuction, we’ll still be left with a troubling question: why did it take everyone else – Republicans, the media, and the general public – to tell President Obama what he should do?
S.E. Cupp is author of "Why You're Wrong About the Right," with Brett Joshpe (Simon & Schuster, 2008) and a regular contributor to the New York Daily News and Fox News.
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