Bob Franken

Last Week’s King Features Column

(Writer’s note: Per the arrangement with the syndicators, my columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)


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Doctors have their Hippocratic oath with its “First do no harm” ideal. In politics, it’s a corrosive, unspoken Hypocritic oath. For proof, look no further than the games with earmarks played by the very members of the Senate who made a big deal out of the claim they had sworn off them.

Never mind that they ultimately voted down a pork-laden spending bill stuffed with billions of dollars in goodies that were snuck into the legislation by many of the most sanctimonious anti-earmark Republicans. That only happened because they got caught dunking their hands in the bacon jar.

That recently reformed dunkerd Mitch McConnell was suddenly opposing earmarks as “the kind of thing the American people are tired of.” Did we mention that the nonprofit group Taxpayers for Common Sense tallied earmarks embedded in the measure by McConnell at $112 million? He was just one of many.

Another one we’ve all noticed is the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which is the spigot (rhymes with piglet) through which most of this largess has always flowed. He is Hal Rogers. In a long congressional career, he has become known as the “Prince of Pork,” always making sure he spreads federal money back home. Now, he’s suddenly another convert to the tea party religion, where ending the practice is an article of faith.

Before those tea partiers start shouting hallelujah about their big victory over Washington’s way of doing business and over all the lobbyists who grease the skids, maybe they should pay attention to how so many of their flock are abruptly flocking to fundraisers here in D.C. to pay off campaign expenses. Guess who ponies up the big admission to those events? That’s an easy one. The lobbyists, of course.

Thanks to The Washington Post, we also learned that a bunch of new members are switching from insurgent to insider even more shamelessly. They’re hiring lobbyists for their congressional operations. At least 13 incoming Republican firebrands, among them militant mullah Rand Paul, have recruited operatives from special-interest groups to become their all-powerful chiefs of staff.

Not to be outdone by the GOP in the “Just Kidding” department, we have the Democrats who bail, as soon as the going gets a little tough, on the principles they so loudly proclaim. That is the charge being leveled at President Barack Obama not by Republicans, but by many of his fellow Democrats. He may call them “sanctimonious,” but they would respond that he came into office as a “Change You Can Believe In” kinda guy.

Now he’s cozying up to the corporate types who have already taken advantage of him and the entire country. They’re hoarding the profits they accumulated after massive government subsidies instead of plowing them into an expansion that would brighten the dismal unemployment picture. Supporters would argue he’s merely responding to the new reality of midterm-election setbacks. Skeptics counter that it was his willingness to accommodate bad behavior that got him in this political mess to begin with.

While it is a meritorious argument that compromise is the only way to make any progress in government, it also is fair to question politicians who make all the grandiose promises that are either just empty to begin with or pathetically naive.

At least this charade isn’t the usual kind where the family-values zealots are exposed in more ways than one, proving that they’re just like the rest of us: No matter how righteous their rhetoric, they take their paints off the same way we all do.

Kinky or not, all this does is reinforce the hardened cynicism that citizens have about their leaders. That does serious damage to the trust we need in a democracy. So, if there really was a political Hypocritic oath, its main thrust would be “First Do Harm”

© 2010 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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