Saint Obama Turns the Other Cheek on Reform

Obama, St. Augustine of earmarks

Foto: AZ DOT

St. Augustine of Hippo is regarded as one of the greatest theologians of the early Christian church, perhaps second only to Paul himself. That he was an intellectual -- an academic -- and enough of a ladies man that he had not one, but two concubines, gives his story a reality-based personal grounding not often found in the lives of saints.

His writings are not just those of a philosopher, but of a man who struggles with the temptations of all men. His major work, considered the first true autobiography of Western civilization, Confessions, contains one of the great quotes of all time, "Lord, make me chaste...just not yet."

At the risk of sounding sacriligous, does President Obama have a bit of St. Augustine in him?

In brief remarks Wednesday, Obama called for comprehensive reform of the congressional earmark process -- itemized spending for projects in individual members' districts and states:

"But the fact is that on occasion earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste and fraud and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the 11th hour without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest.There are times where earmarks may be good on their own, but in the context of a tight budget might not be our highest priority."

Shortly after saying this, the president signed the $410 billion omnibus spending bill funding government operations for the rest of the fiscal year; it contained close to 9,000 earmarks costing $7.7 billion.

As a candidate back in September, then-Sen. Obama said of earmarks: "We need earmark reform. And when I’m president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely."

So, was his "line by line" then -- just a line? What about his recognition that they are "used as a vehicle for waste and fraud and abuse"?

In fairness to the president, this spending bill was leftover business because the Bush administration and the previous Congress couldn't agree on funding levels for the current fiscal year. In that sense, it was "not Obama's responsibility." But, the fact is, he is president now and he could have sent a strong signal that it's no longer business-as-usual in the administration.

It would have been tough, but the president could have put his stamp on the process by saying, "We just sent $787 billion out of the treasury in the stimulus. The country can survive without these added items."

But after making a big deal out of earmarks during the campaign, Obama ultimately punted -- except for some more nice, flowery language on the problems of earmarks. He supposedly wants to achieve earmark chastity -- just not yet.

On the upside, Augustine of Hippo eventually accepted the chastity for which he prayed. 

On the downside, saints are few and far between in Washington, DC.

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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