Paul Greenberg

Whenever some politician portrays himself as the source of all blessings (thanks to your tax money, sucker), a scene from the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" comes to mind. It's the one in which Anthony Quinn, in the role of as some minor sheikh, is extolling his own generosity from atop a desolate sand dune: "I am a river to my people!"

It's a familiar enough spiel. Doesn't every Latin American caudillo regularly remind his subjects of how grateful they should be to him? And here in Arkansas, our senior senator, Blanche Lincoln, refers to her chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee as a "pipeline" of benefits for her lucky constituents.

Senator Lincoln isn't so crass as to actually spell it out, but her message is unmistakable: We here in Arkansas ought to re-elect Lady Bountiful if for no other reason than sheer gratitude for all the benefits she showers on us. Isn't that the premise of every pork-dispensing politician when campaign season rolls around?

Not that a public servant like Senator Blanche would fail to serve herself first. For example, she takes full advantage of the franking privilege that lets her deluge our mailboxes this time of year with ads for herself.

It all comes under the guise of letting us simple folk know what's happening in the nation's capital. For example: "Lincoln's Historic Child Nutrition Legislation Passes Senate," "Lincoln's Tough Wall Street Reforms Become Law," "Lincoln is the Greatest There Ever Was...." OK, I made that last one up, but it pretty much captures the tone of the whole, self-promoting, self-absorbed genre.

By strange coincidence, the flood of franked mail arrives just in time for campaign season. How convenient. For her. She's not the one who has to toss it in the already overflowing recycling bin. Even more convenient, she's not the one who pays the hefty postage on all this junk mail with the pretentious headlines.

One of the senator's staffers, Marni Goldberg, says the senator sent out about 30,000 mailings over the summer. Think of how much that might have cost a private, taxpaying business. When the senator portrays herself as serving others, she feels no need to emphasize how well she serves herself.

The chairmanship of a powerful Senate committee is a pipeline of goodies, all right, especially for those who control its flow. Any lobbyist worthy of the name knows it's good to have friends in high places, and what better way to assure access to the high-and-mighty than with cash at campaign time? Should a lobbyist forget that fact of life in Washington, there are always those politicians who will remind him, and none too subtly, by holding receptions to raise campaign funds.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.