Acton Institute Powerblog

Does Pork Get Your Goat?

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Pork, sweet, juicy pork.

John Stossel, the icon of indignation, has a piece today decrying the spending habits and attitudes of our Republican-led Congress. I will let you read his article for the details, but for what it’s worth, here are some reasons why I think the disgust Stossel projects is an entirely proper and fitting response to pork barrel spending.
When a servant of the people makes his servitude a catch-all reason for indiscriminate exertions of spending power, we call this pork. And it is essentially pride that is at work here. Stossel relates a story where Sen. Byrd grows indignant at Stossel’s indignation; the story is an example of a representative of the people who thinks that the will of the people is the driving force behind every decision he makes. Pork betrays a pride in humility.

This is outrageous. For example, just as there are limitations on the infalibility of the Pope (infallibility restricted to ex cathedra pronouncements on faith and morals; not, let’s say, the best vareity of cheese), there are limitations on the will of the representative. What a representative wills is not, for that reason, necessarily willed by the represented–this is preciesely backwards. To think and, what’s more, to act otherwise is an insult not only to the represented, but to the integrity of the representative system.

Another reason why Stossel is correct in his anger is that the actions of porkers are often, as he notes, blatant and unapologetic. To be wronged is one thing; but when the person who wronged you makes clear his indifference to the wrong–this is something else entirely. For not only is there the injury of the wrong, there is a new injury, an injury against the very standard of right and wrong.

Perhaps an analogy will explain this idea better. While swinging a golf club, a neighbor accidentally (or not) clips a few roses off your prized rosebush. Fine. But when you complain, the neighbor rips the rosebush from the ground. How, he asks, could he be wrong for nicking a few roses off a bush that isn’t there?

This is precisely, I think, what gets Stossel’s goat. It is one thing that the Congress has wasted an enormous amount of tax dollars. But it is something else entirely that it resoundingly reaffirms that decision amidst a hail of criticism and a natural disaster. It is as if they are denouncing from the very beginning the idea that they ought to be fiscally responsible.

So where does that leave Stossel and the rest of the taxpayers? How can they cry foul when the other team has sacked the referee?

David Michael Phelps