The old pork barrel
We've often poked fun at Political Speak, the language that politicians use to cover up what they're doing, or not doing. So we enjoyed a recent column by Jim Stasiowski, a writing coach who urges reporters to use straight talk, not bureaucratic jargon.
Stasiowski began by explaining how pork barrel – the tried and tested term for special interest spending – was replaced with earmarks. From the late 1890s on, pork barrel conjured up a picture of senators and congressmen sitting around the pork barrel (or federal treasury) in an old country store and carving up the pork so they could send the bacon home to their districts and keep voters happy. Our own Senator Robert Byrd is often called The King of Pork, for better or worse.
But as the George W. Bush Administration ran the nation deeply into debt by cutting taxes in a time of heavy war spending, no one wanted to talk about pork anymore. They disguised their pet projects by calling them earmarks, meaning that the money for favored projects was earmarked within a federal agency's budget. Earmarks didn't carry the good-ole-boy image of pork barrel, even if just as much money was involved.
By then, politicians had stopped talking about money, anyway. They spoke of funding and revenue. A tax increase became a revenue enhancement. If the powers-that-be wanted to help an industry, they no longer gave it tax breaks, but rather tax abatements. This helps to cover up the fact that you are paying part of that industry's tax bill.
Then, they began to muddle up not only how much was spent, but what it was spent for. Instead of roads, bridges, water lines and sewer lines, they spoke of infrastructure, pretending that people knew what they were talking about.
Finally, they concocted the term economic development so that no right-thinking person would ever complain.
As Stasiowski put it: No modern coinage is more revered than economic development. Officials who utter it insulate themselves from criticism. Short of assault and battery, any act committed in the name of economic development is deemed worthy, and the reporter who aims skeptical questions at proponents of economic development will be branded a community traitor.
So, this is how we came to say: Our elected leaders are working and fighting to expand area economic development with earmarks, tax abatements for new industry and revenue enhancements to create funding for infrastructure.
Cut the gibberish, and it's still the same guys sitting around the same pork barrel, using your tax dollars as their personal reelection accounts.