The Trouble With Porkbusting

John McCain's getting in some hot water in the must-win state of Florida for his opposition to a bill that would have provided $2 billion in funds needed to clean up the Everglades. McCain says his opposition is driven not by opposition to spending that money, but to spending some other money on some other projects that were elsewhere in the bill. Be that as it may, the bill he opposed was the bill that was on the table and he opposed it.

You see here, obviously, some of the problems with a political persona that's so defined by opposition to "wasteful" spending. This is an easy posture to maintain if you're a Senator from Arizona who's never faced a competitive re-election challenge. In a vague and general sense, everyone's against "wasteful" spending, and a willingness to make a pain-in-the-ass out of yourself on these topics can earn you good press. But the way American political institutions work is that legislators represent specific geographical constituencies. And things that look "wasteful" to people outside the constituency often look vital within it. So various projects get funded, sometimes as the price that needs to be paid to fund other, more important, projects. And it's easy enough to be against all this stuff if you're just trying to be a crank senator known for his opposition to other people's projects. But take things nationally, and suddenly you're in hot water with voters everywhere.

Meanwhile, this sort of raises a larger question about a McCain administration -- would a President McCain really make it impossible to get anything done legislatively until some sea change in the American political system eliminates legislators' proclivity for funding local projects? A principled stand can be a nice thing, but you can't have a president who's so in love with his principles that he can't accomplish anything. They say you don't want to see the legislative sausage getting made, and I can personally sympathize with the idea of not wanting to get involved in the grubby compromises of the political process, but if you want to be president you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and make some sausage.