What do AIG and earmarks have in common?

Let’s label this Drezner’s Political Analogy of 2009:  AIG bonuses are to the left side of the political spectrum as congressional earmarks are to the right side of the spectrum. Why?  Well, these two things have a surprising amount in common.  Neither of them poll terribly well; Both of them reflect waste, inattention, and borderline ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Let's label this Drezner's Political Analogy of 2009: 

AIG bonuses are to the left side of the political spectrum as congressional earmarks are to the right side of the spectrum.

Why?  Well, these two things have a surprising amount in common. 

Let’s label this Drezner’s Political Analogy of 2009: 

AIG bonuses are to the left side of the political spectrum as congressional earmarks are to the right side of the spectrum.

Why?  Well, these two things have a surprising amount in common. 

  • Neither of them poll terribly well;
  • Both of them reflect waste, inattention, and borderline corruption in handling the government’s money;
  • Both issues force the other party to say something to indicate that they don’t support these things;
  • Earmarks represent a very small percentage of the omnibus spending bill; bonuses represent a very small percentage of the AIG bailout;
  • So, given the current economic situation, both of them are huge honking distractons and do not matter a whole hell of a lot. 

Consider this from today’s Times write-up

New York’s efforts against A.I.G. have overshadowed those of the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, the official who is responsible for the financial bailout, along with the Federal Reserve. The White House and Treasury have been besieged by questions about why Mr. Geithner did not know sooner about the bonus payments due this month, and whether he could have done more to stop them, prompting White House officials to assert President Obama’s continued confidence in Mr. Geithner.

If I was Mr. Geithner’s press spokesman, here is what I would say in response to more media inquiries about this:

Mr. Geithner profusely apologizes for not devoting more attention to this matter.  He clearly devoted too much time to the G-20 summit, implementing the stimulus package, preparing the 2009 budget, and other piddling matters like that.  Clearly, instead, Mr. Geithner feels he should have devoted more attention to this issue, which does absolutely nothing to put the financial sector on a sounder financial footing.  I mean, it’s not like he’s the only guy in the building or anything.

Mr Geithner thanks the media and Congress for focusing so much on this dumb-ass issue.   

As you can see, there is very good reason why I’m not Tim Geithner’s press spokesman. 

Let’s be clear — I’d like AIG officers not to get these bonuses, just as I’d like to see earmarks removed from the budget.  I just think the opportunity costs on focusing on these issues is pretty damn big. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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