No pork? Payback works.
Yet that is precisely what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration did. They restricted access to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., to one lane, snarling traffic there for days, after that city's mayor refused to endorse Gov. Christie's re-election bid.
These individuals went too far and should be prosecuted. Yet in their actions is an uncomfortable and undeniable truth -- politics, at its core, continues to be the fine art of exchanging votes and endorsements for patronage.
When was the last time the U.S. Senate passed a spending bill? That would be in 2009. It was an omnibus bill, and it was loaded with some 8,000 earmarks, which is perhaps why it passed.
By 2009, of course, discrediting earmarks had become fashionable among politicians. Strict monitoring of earmarks began that year. In 2010, House Republicans agreed to a self-imposed ban on earmarks. In 2011, President Barack Obama promised to veto earmarks in his State of the Union address.
Well, it wouldn't be farfetched to blame a bit of the divisive partisan climate of the last several years on the significant reduction in earmarks, that is, on the inability of policy makers to gain support through patronage.
It also wouldn't be farfetched to say that the inability to use earmarks strengthened the extreme tea-party whippersnapper members in Congress at the expense of their senior and moderate Republican colleagues, who were no longer able to go home with a list of all the pork procured for their constituents.
Lacking such a list, moderates lost their ability to influence voters and raise money and were forced to join, or to refrain from criticizing, the lunacy of their extreme colleagues, who were mostly vassals of right-wing billionaires.
Gov. Christie, a moderate Republican with ambition for the presidency, understood this. He also understood that showing himself as a successful bipartisan governor of a Democratic-leaning state would give him an edge over other would-be 2016 presidential candidates.
But unlike President Barack Obama, who tried with overwhelming failure to court bipartisanship through reason and pragmatism, Gov. Christie used the tried and proven grease-the-wheels political strategy.
He offered elected Democrats in his state a range of goodies in return for their endorsement.
It worked. He received the endorsement of 61 elected Democratic officials, and crushed his Democratic opponent by taking 60.5 percent of the votes cast, including about a third of the Democratic votes.
I am not saying Gov. Christie's way of doing business is the right way. I am saying that it is the only way things get done in our politics.
The proof is in the trillion-dollar-plus spending plan that Senate and House negotiators ironed out and the Senate passed Thursday.
Why now, after so many years?
We could say we are witnessing the dawn of bipartisanship. I rather think it is because the proposed spending plan is packed with earmarks. They are not as plentiful and blatant as they were in the past, and they are not called earmarks.
They are there, however. They are called targeted funding.
But by whatever name they are called, wouldn't you take earmarks over another government shutdown?
Contact Clive McFarlane at email@example.com