Liberals are in an uproar over a Los Angeles Times story portraying Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., as a hypocrite because she personally benefitted from federal government aid despite campaigning as somebody who wants to rein in spending. While the article does raise several fair criticisms, its central charges of hypocrisy are mostly overblown.
Here’s is the crux of it:
(T)he Minnesota Republican and her family have benefited personally from government aid, an examination of her record and finances shows. A counseling clinic run by her husband has received nearly $30,000 from the state of Minnesota in the last five years, money that in part came from the federal government. A family farm in Wisconsin, in which the congresswoman is a partner, received nearly $260,000 in federal farm subsidies.
It’s been a popular theme of liberals for some time, particularly over the past few years, to raise alarms every time any conservative accepts any form of government aid. The problem with this line of argument is that no matter how conservative or even libertarian people are, they still have to live in the world of big government and pay taxes to support it. Therefore, it would be absurd for them to unilaterally decide not to receive any benefits that are going to exist – and that they’ll help pay for – regardless of whether or not they accept them.
Applying this standard to everybody would mean that libertarians should not collect a penny of Social Security benefits, even if they spent a lifetime sending payroll taxes to Washington. It would mean that if you favor a flat tax, to be consistent, you couldn’t take advantage of any deductions or tax credits when filing returns under the current system.
The better gauge of hypocrisy is whether your policy preferences start varying based on whether certain policies benefit you personally. So in the flat tax example, it would mean that you claim to support a flat tax without any deductions or credits, but when pressed, say the only exception should be the mortgage interest deduction, because you just happened to have recently purchased the house.
The more relevant question for a politician such as Bachmann is whether she has broken from her professed small government principles specifically to advocate policies that would benefit her personally. And based on the Times article, there’s no evidence given that she supported the farm subsidies and health care spending that benefitted her family. In fact, the article notes that she voted against the 2008 farm bill. And that she voted against the stimulus bill. Sure, she later requested stimulus aid for her district, but again, her district is paying taxes to Washington and the same money is going to be spent whether or not it goes to her district.
There are parts of the article that raise legitimate points about the purity of her record. For instance, the Times quotes a 2009 letter Bachmann sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in which she called for the propping up of pig products: "I would encourage you to take any additional steps necessary to prevent further deterioration of these critical industries, such as making additional commodity purchases.” The article also highlights her attempts to argue that transportation projects shouldn’t count as earmarks.
Each of these examples warrants additional scrutiny, but the rest of the story overreached.