Porking One’s Way to Victory

For some people government is a means to an end, a tool to achieve certain ends. With them real debate is possible. While one can, and should, disagree with, say, someone who desires to arbitrarily reshuffle people’s wealth to meet some predetermined “fair” distribution of income, at least there is something to debate.

But Washington is filled with people for whom government is a means to a different end — the acquisition and maintenance of power. How do you argue with someone who really doesn’t care one way or another about liberty, or poverty, or the environment? All they want to do is run the world, and passing out loot — bringing to mind H.L. Mencken’s comment that an election is an advance auction of stolen goods — is the most effective means of doing so.

These people can be Republicans or Democrats. In fact, in recent years the GOP has been far more effective in playing this game. Reports The Washington Post:

Thirteen months before President Bush was reelected, chief strategist Karl Rove summoned political appointees from around the government to the Old Executive Office Building. The subject of the Oct. 1, 2003, meeting was “asset deployment,” and the message was clear:

The staging of official announcements, high-visibility trips and declarations of federal grants had to be carefully coordinated with the White House political affairs office to ensure the maximum promotion of Bush’s reelection agenda and the Republicans in Congress who supported him, according to documents and some of those involved in the effort.

“The White House determines which members need visits,” said an internal e-mail about the previously undisclosed Rove “deployment” team, “and where we need to be strategically placing our assets.”

Many administrations have sought to maximize their control of the machinery of government for political gain, dispatching Cabinet secretaries bearing government largess to battleground states in the days before elections. The Clinton White House routinely rewarded big donors with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and private coffees with senior federal officials, and held some political briefings for top Cabinet officials during the 1996 election.

But Rove, who announced last week that he is resigning from the White House at the end of August, pursued the goal far more systematically than his predecessors, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post, enlisting political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance.

This is fascinating but shameful. Shameful that taxpayer assets are routinely used to advance partisan ends. Shameful that an administration that blathers on about fiscal responsibility is far more committed to winning elections than in using its resulting power to achieve anything worthwhile.

Whatever one thinks of the Democrats who won control of Congress in 2006, at least their victory demonstrates that pork is not enough. Even the most sophisticated and ruthless political operation can’t overcome big issues moving the wrong way. And that is something to celebrate.