The original metaphor was the pig. You could say, in the beginning was the pig. And the pig was with the politicians. And, boy, did the politicians pig out.
I refer, of course, to pork-barrel politics . . . that is, the kind of spending that usually falls under the rubric “earmarks” these days. Politicians love this “other white meat” because it allows them to take more direct credit for specific government spending.
But voters, for a number of reasons, have become increasingly fed up with earmarked, pork spending. They think of all that money wasted, tens of billions. Just a drop in the bucket, amongst trillions? Well, common sense suggests you cut the easy, least credible spending first.
And pork just seems wrong to many Americans, in part because it’s all very un-federalistic. The Federal Principle — which, you know, is right there in the Constitution — assigns to the federal government only those tasks that cannot be handled at state and local level. Local projects (such as libraries and bike paths and such) are, ipso facto, not federal in nature. Therefore, to allow politicians at the national level to spend money on them is something of an affront.
Besides, pork encourages corruption faster than you can say “trichinosis.” By slopping out huge dollops of the federal budget onto purely local projects, our representatives begin to think that their job is to spend federally raised tax money to appease influential constituents at home. It trades statesmanship for a never-ending auction, all to fund re-election campaigns.
And it corrupts us, too. When pork spending is prevalent, it becomes easy to get caught up in the feeding.
A Very Short History of Pork
First there were “internal improvements.” Then there was out-and-out “pork” — that is, piggish spending directed by federal representatives to their district.
Then, says H.L. Mencken, author of that great big book, The American Language, there was “pork-barrel spending.” Same thing as pork, really.
I confess: Before consulting that bible of American word history, I had assumed that “pork-barrel” had come first, and that “pork” was merely a shortened form of the term. I was wrong. “Pork” came first. Why the elaboration of the word? Perhaps the amount of pork had grown so much that Americans needed a metaphorical barrel to handle it all.