Over the last few years, every time Congress passes some massive spending package, like the $1.4 trillion omnibus passed earlier this month, Alabamians are reminded what a friend we have in Senator Richard Shelby.
It is a cringe-inducing ritual that Alabama taxpayers face when they are told their senior Republican U.S. Senator, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is partly the reason for the state’s economic successes.
Of course, you do not dare question it. You do not want to come off as ungrateful for such a bountiful harvest of Port of Mobile money, contracts for Austal USA, military bases, Space Force, the new FBI headquarters, grant funding for UAB or fish and wildlife research for Auburn University.
If you give off any hint of skepticism, you are dismissed as a right-wing wacko who cannot appreciate the magic of federal government appropriations.
(That, by the way, is such an intellectually lazy retort from our elected officials.)
Can we pump the brakes on the lionization, guys?
It may seem naïve to make this point, but it does not make it any less accurate to say despite longevity and power, Richard Shelby is a servant of the public. As voters, we have entrusted him with our tax dollars, and he should be humbled by having been bestowed such an honor.
Alabama voters have demonstrated by overwhelming margins since 2010 this is a conservative state. In every Republican primary before the arrival of Donald Trump, candidates ran on their conservative bona fides. Obviously, that changed after Trump, as candidates have shifted to touting their Trump-like approaches to government.
Republican hopefuls for federal office rarely openly run as endeavoring to be a champion of pork spending.
“Vote for me, and I’ll go to Capitol Hill and steer billions of dollars back to Alabama!”
You would not hear that in a campaign spot. It is vulgar and violates the notion Republicans have tendencies that trend toward limited government and fiscal responsibility.
But you know which party claims the mantle of using the power of government in the name of making the world a better place?
Yup, that would be the Democratic Party.
Traditionally, however, Democrats tout the redistribution of wealth and the use of government resources to improve our lives. That is not something you would ever hear from a GOP campaign.
It is a reasonable and valid approach worthy of discussion, but it is also something Alabama voters reject.
It is also why Shelby’s long and storied tenure in the U.S. Senate is heralded — money from taxes paid by people now and of future generations has been steered to the state of Alabama.
The casual voter in a general election probably thinks when they fill in a ballot for the Republican Party, they’re getting conservative candidates who want to lessen the burden of Uncle Sam, making it possible to live a productive and fulfilling life with as little intrusion as possible.
That might have been true 15 years ago in Alabama. As we have shifted to one-party rule in this state, it is not as accurate anymore.
It is about whatever is in the best interest of the state, congressional district, legislative district, county or municipality.
All that talk about conservative values and principles is great, but we must be pragmatic!
If a defense contractor with a factory in our state needs a few hundred million dollars earmarked for a weapons system, then, by all means, vote “aye,” and we will save the ideological discussions about sound fiscal policies for cable news or talk radio.
In all seriousness, there is a balance that can be achieved.
Clearly, the federal government has essential functions it must perform. If it is cost-effective to make Alabama a part of those, then, by all means, our federal delegation should pursue those opportunities.
There is also a role the feds play in infrastructure and interstate commerce. It is not just people from Alabama who use the roads and bridges in Alabama. The federal government is mandated to provide for the common defense. That can be in the form of military bases or weapons manufacturing in Alabama.
Where things get uncomfortable is when massive government spending is deemed virtuous only because of geography.
What would we say if Dianne Feinstein secured $566 million for a new FBI building in Burbank, Calif.? Would that be the mark of a true statesman?
Senator Shelby is already an influential figure in Alabama’s 201-year-old history. His work in Washington, D.C., will have a lasting impact on the state’s economy.
When he is remembered long after retirement, it will not be because of an ideological core steeped in high-minded principles loyal to the nation’s founding.
It will be because he was good at playing the game on Capitol Hill, surviving election and primary challenges, and was around long enough to land the lucrative Senate Appropriations Committee chairmanship.
If Shelby retires and the primary question becomes who will be our next Richard Shelby, meaning who will bring home the bacon, let’s just be Democrats and call it a day.
There is nothing wrong with that. If pork-barrel spending for the state is the priority, achieving those ends is best done from an intellectually honest standpoint, which is with a “D” next to your name.
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