Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at The New Republic and former assistant editor at The American Prospect. Has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Reason, and other publications.
The classic definition of "pork barrel" is spending that members of Congress load onto bills to benefit their constituents. Now it has become the choice term in attacks on public spending of all kinds. And, with the summer 1994 debate over the crime bill, "pork" acquired racial overtones and took on the meaning of expenditures targeted at the inner city. Seizing upon examples such as midnight basketball, Republican opponents of the bill indiscriminately declared all urban social programs unkosher.
If there is one thing that most everybody agrees upon regarding the ideological legacy of the Clinton presidency, it is that there is none. President Clinton, left and right typically concur, is a man of polling and expediency, and almost infinite flexibility of viewpoint. A subset of this thinking, indigenous to the left, holds that Clinton does stand for something, sort of, but it's really nothing more than warmed-over Republicanism. A number of liberal economists have indicted Clinton's fiscal policies on these grounds, and even Clinton himself famously complained in 1993 that his administration had turned into "Eisenhower Republicans."
They are stories of despair, heartrending and outrageous. A young boy with hopes of becoming a doctor is told by his school that "it would be more appropriate for him to be a gas station attendant or a truck driver." Another girl, an honor student, is instructed to consider a career in sanitation. Elsewhere, a young girl named Stacy is continually frustrated with math—she has never been taught to multiply. But she is fortunate compared to a student named Joey, who went off to college only to discover he scored at the remedial level—he, too, had never learned basic skills. And a woman in California, Mrs. McDaniel, tells her confused children to look for help in their math textbook—but there is no textbook. A common thread runs through this litany of woe.
Washington has a curious intellectual dynamic: The less understood
an idea is, the faster it spreads. On May 9, a Wall Street
Journal op-ed by Lawrence Kudlow announced that cutting the
capital gains tax would balance the budget immediately. Within
days, a panelist on the PBS program Washington Week in Review repeated this remarkable finding while the assembled talking
heads nodded sagely. Whence this windfall? Kudlow explains: