The Republicans have pledged to end all support for earmarks, at least for the time being. Various analysts, particularly among the Left, have criticized this strategy by pointing out that earmarks only consume a tiny fraction of the overall budget. Supporters, meanwhile, have referred to the gesture as symbolically important, and at least a small step in the right direction.
But in my opinion, the term “symbolic” seems like too superficial a description for this positive development. Yes, there is symbolism, but taking (or choosing not to take) money that does not belong to you is about more than symbolism. There is a psychological and even a spiritual component to engaging in wrongdoing or pursuing righteousness. When you give out earmarks to your constituents at the expense of the country as a whole, you are actually degrading your own soul — as well as the souls of your faithful followers. When you do enough of that garbage, it is little wonder that you ultimately wind up voting for grossly idiotic or immoral policies, such as socialized medicine. If you put out the Holy Spirit’s fire by actively mocking righteousness, you make yourself into fool or a wild animal. It is hard to see the light when you yourself are actively walking in darkness.
This is about the spending, certainly. But it’s also about redefining the actual responsibilities of the federal government. If we stop asking the federal government to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves, then we can also demand that they stop charging us to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves.
Would we call it merely symbolic of evil, if all the congressmen were actually walking over to the Federal Reserve, picking up truckloads of cash, and then just handing it out to voters on the streets during Election Day? Admittedly, it would probably not increase the National Debt or inflation very significantly. Nonetheless, bribery is not a matter of symbolism. It is a matter of the soul.