The recent Wall Street Journal editorial, seemingly calculated to take Paul down a peg by noting earmarks with his name on them, either deliberately or ignorantly glossed over the fact that, as Paul has quite openly said, most earmarks simply place a politician’s name on money already designated to be spent, which is why any earmark “reform” that merely takes their names off the expenditures is unlikely to have much impact on spending — more important is voting against the appropriations bills themselves, as he does (though surely, even if only as a symbolic matter, he probably ought to have kept his name off the spending he rails against).
An old friend of mine who works for Congress has been saying for a long time that earmarks reform does nothing except push the individual-legislator “carving up” process from the halls of Congress into the subsequent bureaucratic formulations, with no money saved and an even less-public, less-democratic process for achieving the (nominal) distributions.
Still, Sen. Tom Coburn, almost as devoted a foe of government spending as Paul and far more hated by the establishment because (unlike the marginalized Paul) he often gets things done, argues that having legislators’ names enshrined right there in the legislation may have the negative side effect, even if it does not technically add to the total amount being spent, of making them less likely to criticize the overall spending bill for fear that rocking the boat might end up causing the part that names them to be what falls overboard — just as I might be less willing to see a building demolished if it had my name on a plaque on its side (that I could show off to supporters) even if I hadn’t actually called for extra construction work.
In any case, in a race where the other major-party candidates (and, again, I am enough of a pragmatist to want a candidate with the major-party campaign apparatus behind him if at all possible, which is why it’s exciting to have Paul running as Republican this time rather than as a potential-spoiler candidate for the Libertarian Party, as he did once before) get no better, fiscally, than Giuliani (for example) who isn’t sure he likes the idea of a flat tax, you still have to vote for Paul — and with America’s long-term fiscal stability rather than merely its various short-term crises starting to become an issue, picking Paul looks downright pragmatic.
I suggested on the radio show that wonderful as the pro-Paul grassroots zealots are, they ought to be thinking about how to reach out to a broader coalition comparable to the Perot supporters of 1992 (like my parents, at least before Perot had his pre-election meltdown), who may not have been libertarians — indeed, in some cases were quite the opposite — but who definitely responded to the general Perot theme of America needing to get its financial house in order. That huge federal debt doesn’t just disappear when we obsess over other issues.