The New Pigs

When Ralph Nader ran for President as an independent, many members of the chattering class expressed outrage (and profound disappointment, and all sorts of other unpleasant emotions) that the lifelong consumer advocate and muckraker would “betray” his fellow liberals by usurping votes that would have otherwise gone to Al Gore.

Whatever his motives — hubris, his former friends claimed — Nader repeatedly insisted that he had chosen to run because, no matter the red or blue assignations and unique animal mascots, there was substantively no difference between Republicans and Democrats: they’re merely two iterations of the same corrupt story. The style and language and “issues” are dissimilar on the surface, but when you peel off the pinstriped suit and omnipresent grin, you can’t tell the difference between an exposed Republican or Democrat. They both oink.

Granted, the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore is as obvious as that between a retarded monkey and a Nobel Laureate. But the political machines that bore them, according to the Nader view, are equally rotten, indistinguishable in their obsequious fealty to corporate masters and the addictive lure of power.

With Democrats now running Congress, one can be forgiven for expecting that, as Fats Waller put it, there’ll be some changes made. Here is the opportunity the forgotten political party has relished for so many years, a chance to prove to the American electorate that the scandal-ridden days of Republican chicanery are in the past.

Instead: Welcome to the all-you-can-steal buffet!

Democrats pledged to cut down on pork, on legislative earmarks that directly benefit a member or Congress’s home district (and, often, companies that do business with the Representative or his family). Their idea of fiscal austerity, however, is far more porcine than their Republican predecessors. A new $14 billion water bill has 446 earmarks attached. The Republican version, introduced last year, had 272. My Senator, Barbara Boxer (D-California), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which drafted the massive bill, conveniently steered a full 10% of the proceeds to our home state, including $30 million to shore up beachfront in San Diego County.

The cheering news: Senators signed statements saying that neither they nor their families have personal stakes in the funded projects. But come election season that won’t stop the donations from pouring in like floodwaters over a broken levee.

New rules encouraging transparency in earmark insertion — previously Senators could slip in the largesse anonymously — was supposed to cut down on the thievery. Instead, it’s business as usual, and every Congressman who successfully fed at the taxpayer trough wasted no time in emailing his constituents back home how well he had dined. Which is what the lobbyists pay their politicians for: to deliver the goods.

Republican or Democrat — for or against gay marriage, the war in Iraq, abortion: it’s all clever packaging. The meat inside is always bacon.

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