by David Epstein
OK, now to three big points on earmarks/the Bridge To Nowhere (BTN). In general, Dems should be running a campaign against the Republicans, not Sarah Palin. But at the moment, the BTN is a real embarrassment for the Reps; the media keep mentioning how Palin keeps repeating the claim even though it's false; consequently, it's taking the Reps off their message; it emphasizes the fact that McCain has morphed into just another candidate who will do anything to get elected; and if reporters keep asking about it McCain might just throw one of his patented temper tantrums in front of the cameras, which would really not be good.
So, three points on the BTN, as it's playing out in the media right now. I remind you of the oft-repeated money quote: "I told the Congress 'thanks, but no thanks,' for that Bridge to Nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, we'd build it ourselves."
1) The whole point is that she was for the bridge exactly when Alaska didn't have to pay for it themselves; she only wanted it when the feds were going to pick up the biggest part of the check. Rather than show how independent Alaskans are, then, the whole episode reminds us that they've made a living for years soaking the rest of the taxpayers for wasteful pork barrel projects in their state.
2) What kind of appropriations process does the quote imagine? Something like the following, I guess:
Evil Congress: "This is Congress on the phone. We've appropriated money for your state to build a bridge to nowhere."
Sarah Palin: "No, we really don't want a bridge."
EC: "No, we insist! You must build this bridge. You cannot refuse us!"
SP: "Oh really?"
EC: "Yes, we will force you to build this bridge, no matter how inefficient it is, not matter how few people it serves, and no matter how much you protest!"
SP: "Thanks, but no thanks, for that Bridge to Nowhere. If our state wanted a bridge, we'd build it ourselves."
I mean, even clueless national reporters must know that this isn't how things work -- Congress doesn't ordinarily try to foist spending projects on unwilling states. The bridge, as we all know, was a pet project of Ted Stevens, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, not some vague, detached entity called Congress, and was only abandoned when it became a national embarrassment. For Palin to say she ended the project is like Cornwallis saying he ended the Revolutionary War when he surrendered at Yorktown (and then running for election on a Peace Platform).
3) It's interesting to speculate how this all came about -- how the line ever got into her speech. After all, it isn't like she went around Alaska saying this in years past -- Alaskans would have known better.
My guess is that it's something like this. It's the day before Palin's big speech, and the Republican speech writers have only 24 hours or so to come up with something. So they ask her about the one big embarrassing thing most Americans knew about Alaska before all this, and that was the Bridge to Nowhere. (Especially since McCain is so anti-earmark that he previously attacked the BTN by name, even accusing it of having contributed to the bridge collapse in Minnesota last year(!).)
So Palin says, "Oh, no problem. I ended that project all on my own." And the speechwriters say "Great!" and make a big deal out of it in the speech.
Then they get all this pushback and ask her, "I thought you said you stopped the project? Everyone says you were for it." And she says, "Well, I was, but then I stopped it. True, it was after the feds cut off all the money for the project, but then I ended it!" "Sheesh....." And they know they have to go on and try to defend the obviously indefensible for as long as they can.