Friday, October 28, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Hypocrisy in action

The mark of a successful politician, a congressman, for example, is the ability to take both sides of an issue and get credit for both. The mark of an honorable one is the courage to stay steadfast to a principle and accept the consequences of disappointing one side or the other.

We seem to see far more of the former and far fewer of the latter in these parlous times. The field of Republican presidential contenders is full of the “successful” variety, people who have forsaken one position for the opposite because it will give them traction with an important base of the party, the tea-party faction. The only exception we can think of is U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, whose ideas may be eccentric or even dangerous but nevertheless consistent.

The best weathervane in our memory was Sarah Palin, who joined the national ticket in 2008 with Sen. John McCain, who had made his mark fighting “earmarks,” those congressional pork appropriations sought by members of Congress to build support back home. McCain had denounced the famous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. Palin, who was Alaska’s governor briefly, announced that she had said “thanks but no thanks” to Washington for the bridge appropriation and every other earmark. But it turned out that she had supported the bridge-to-nowhere funding and, in fact, had requested more federal earmarks for Alaska than had been sought for any state except those with populations many times Alaska’s.

What prompts all this navel contemplation is a newsletter last week from Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro, whose district includes Lonoke County. The newsletter (a Democratic analysis, by the way, reports that he had spent $59,102.26 on such mailings for the months of April, May and June) took credit for getting $400,000 from the federal treasury to help build a convention center in Jonesboro. The money came from the federal Delta Regional Authority. He said the construction would create several hundred jobs. It will create a few dozen anyway.

But here’s the thing. Crawford has joined the House Republican leadership in condemning this kind of federal spending—government stimulus to create jobs and economic activity—and specifically the Delta Regional Authority. He is a member of the Republican Study Committee, which recommended eliminating the Delta Regional Authority, and in his first days in Congress he voted for a Republican budget that slashed the authority’s spending in Mississippi River counties by $7.3 million from 2010.

We could pick on just about any other member of Congress, particularly Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, who decry federal spending except when it is in their districts. Senator John Boozman, when he was in the House of Representatives, never missed a chance to be at a ribbon cutting on a federal project though he loved to haze the “big spenders.”

Back in the spring, after joining Rep. Paul Ryan’s campaign to slash $1 billion from Head Start as the first step in shutting it down, Rep. Tim Griffin, our own congressman, made a highly publicized visit to a Head Start facility in Little Rock and got a picture of himself in the state newspaper reading stories to children. He got the fuzzy image of a champion of early childhood training for poor children.

The member of Congress who can say one thing, do the opposite and always get credit for both is no longer a rarity. The rarity is one who doesn’t try. In fact, after the retirement last year of Rep. Vic Snyder, we can think of none in our part of the world.