Outrage delayed

Maybe we should have rules about when the I-35W bridge collapse can be mentioned in any political context. The current system isn’t working. Republicans mention the bridge, and Democrats are outraged. Likewise, Democrats mention the bridge and Republicans are outraged.

The obvious solution is: Don’t mention the bridge. But perhaps that defeats the point.

Sen. John McCain is the one currently under fire for linking the bridge collapse to Congress’ spending on pork.

But what he said on Wednesday isn’t much different than what he said three days after the bridge collapsed. He said in Ankeny, Iowa then:

“I think, perhaps, you could make an argument that part of the responsibility lies with the Congress of the United States. Do you know what we do with your tax dollars every time you go and fill up your gas tank, and that money that flows to Washington as a result of that? We spend approximately 20 billion -b — billion dollars of that money on pork barrel earmark projects.”

and Radio Iowa reported additional comments

“Maybe if we’d have done it right, maybe some of that money would have gone to inspect those bridges and other bridges around the country. Maybe, maybe the 200,000 people that cross that bridge every day would have been safer than spending $233 million of your tax dollars on a bridge in Alaska to an island with 50 people on it.”

Then he said this in Pennsylvania on Wednesday:

“The bridge in Minneapolis didn’t collapse because there wasn’t enough money. The bridge in Minneapolis collapsed because so much money was spent on wasteful, unnecessary pork-barrel projects.”

The words are almost identical, and yet the reaction would suggest they were new. What’s the real difference? McCain’s campaign was written off as dead last August, and now he’s the party’s presumptive nominee.

  • David Brauer

    Bob, I think what’s new is that we know a lot more about why the bridge collapsed. Design issues, ill-formed weight-loading decisions, lowball maintenance options – none specifically related to pork.

    I don’t disagree that we can spend our money more wisely, but all this shows is that the facts don’t get in the way of a McCain point. I don’t disagree that he’s right about earmarks and process, but I think he’s off base in this case.

  • http://theuptake.org Noah Kunin

    Ditto to David.

    There are good earmarks and bad earmarks. Pork barrel spending as a specific subsection of directed spending by Congress needs to meet a specific “threshold” to be truly called pork: the benefit is to a small number of people, the overall benefit is low, or the project benefits the legislator who is doing the earmarking or their clique.

    McCain’s citation of $20 billion seems off – $20 billion was the TOTAL amount of earmarks in the recent in the FY08 Omnibus bill (passed in ’07).

    What if an enterprising legislator had seen the lack of inspection for design flaws and thus earmarked money for increased inspections?

    I see where McCain is going with this developing argument – earmarks are a corrupt tool and even if Congress gets it right some of the time it doesn’t justify a broken system. Given the reality of Congress I think the likelihood of doing away with earmarks permanently has the same chance of banning all firearms in the U.S.

    Blaming the “tool” ignores the degree of human agency involved – politicians need to hold themselves to a higher ethical standard.

  • Bob Collins

    I remain confused. The allegation seemed to be the politicization of the bridge collapse. Even without knowing exactly WHY the bridge collapsed on August 4 and maybe we know a little more now, why wasn’t anybody outraged by the identical comments eight months ago?

    Seriously, isn’t it possible that the outrage stems more from McCain’s improved standing — politically — now as opposed to then? And wouldn’t that then make the outrage its own form of politicization?

    Basically what we have here is old comments making new news.

    BTW, so far I’ve found only one reporter — Tom Scheck — who even pointed out that McCain’s comments aren’t new. That includes the national folks who supposedly have some context for the campaign by virtue of traveling with it.