John McCain has indeed voted against more bloated spending bills than most Republicans. I don’t wish to deny him credit for this record, especially his opposition to the last Bush administration farm bill as an election loomed. But what separates McCain from the Pauls, Flakes, and Coburns with which Quin groups him is that his opposition to high spending is not grounded in any coherent philosophy of government or theory of economics.
How many of those spending bills would McCain have voted against if they’d been stripped clean of earmarks? If he did, what language would he have used to oppose them if he couldn’t use bear DNA as a prop? If an expansion of government power can be sold as crucial to the country’s national honor, chances are the senior senator from Arizona will support it. McCain isn’t a small-government conservative like Paul, Flake or Coburn. He is a Republican William Proxmire — admirable, but insufficient.
The problem with an earmark-centric criticism of federal spending practices is that it is too process-oriented, too inside the Beltway, and too narrow in its assessment of the problem. That’s not to say that railing against pork doesn’t have its place. It absolutely does. But not only is “waste, fraud, and abuse” frequently a cop-out to avoid real fiscal discipline. Barack Obama and his party are going to spend the next several years promising the American people health care, college tuitition, housing, green jobs, and any other number of other desirable-sounding things. Republicans are going to need a better reason to say “no” than a bear DNA study buried beneath the fine print.
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