On Murtha

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

George Mason University Econ Chair Don Boudreaux summarizes my feelings as well in this letter to the editor of the Washington Post.

Your favorable front-page remembrance of the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha inadvertently testifies to the abysmally low standards to which politicians are held (“John Murtha dies; longtime congressman was master of pork-barrel politics,” Feb. 9).  By your own account, Mr. Murtha was the “King of Pork.”  He was known for skillfully using Congressional procedures to earmark funds for his district – that is, to prompt Uncle Sam to take money from Americans at large and give it to the relatively small number of Pennsylvanians who elect Mr. Murtha to office.

His justification? “I take care of my district.”  Nothing here about spending taxpayer money wisely; nothing about the general welfare; nothing about principles or fiscal responsibility.

If Mr. Murtha on his own had traveled the country picking pockets, robbing banks, and burgling houses, only to bring the booty back to western PA and share it with his friends, he would have been rightly despised as a common criminal.  But because Mr. Murtha joined forces with persons having similarly questionable morals, who together pass off their thievery as “lawmaking,” he’s celebrated in your pages – celebrated for doing, save on a grander scale, exactly what common thieves do.

And I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that many of the recipients of those earmarks just happened to be companies owned by or that employed Murtha’s friends and relatives.

The media loves to venerate politicians when they pass, simply because they were politicians. Doesn’t seem to matter what sort of scoundrels they really were.

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33 Responses to “On Murtha”

  1. #1 |  Gm | 

    Jesus Radley, did you just stomp on a kitten or something? Whenever a politician dies you get more pissy than a menstrating badger. At least offer your condolences to the family (or better ye just don’t post at all) instead of taking post mortem pot shots.

  2. #2 |  BamBam | 

    It wouldn’t do any good to wish a death upon all of the other state and federal politicians, as there are long lines to replace them. The real problem is the idiotic masses that have no clue and/or don’t care about liberty, personal responsibility (along with suffering the consequences of bad luck / life situations / bad decisions), private property, and letting others live their lives according to their rules.

  3. #3 |  Starborough | 

    Amen to that. When will Americans start holding the politicians they elect to the same standards they have to live by themselves? Why is that such a difficult concept to grasp? These people make decisions that will directly affect your life and your future based on nothing more than concern for their own careers – and you just keep on re-electing them.

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    Murtha is not only a lesson in the legal thievery known as pork, but also in the limits of government power to reshape and restructure the economy. Murtha did direct a fortune in Federal money to his consituents. All this money managed to lower the unemployment rate and aid in some changes in his district, but failed to completely alter and restructure the regional economy in sustainable way, other than to survive via Federal teat. The same story for WV: the billions given to WV thanks to Sen Byrd have alleviated poverty, but the state remains a backwater compared to all of its surrounding neighbors such as MD, VA, OH, KT. It has nice highways.

  5. #5 |  BamBam | 

    Why is it that when someone dies, some feel there is an unspoken “silent period” (kind of like being an employee of a company and not being able to buy/sell stock shares X days before quarterly announcements) before one can say anything “bad” about the person?

    Facts are facts. Murtha was a pork whore. Radley is 100% correct.

  6. #6 |  Dante | 

    It says a lot about society when a man such as Murtha is praised upon his death, rather than villified.

    When obviously corrupt, greedy and non-repentant government “servants” die, they should be treated like the Iraqis treated Sadaam at his hanging.

    No respect.

  7. #7 |  Ira | 

    He wasn’t a saint.

    He was a thief. At least he was up front about it though?

    Don’t forget ABSCAM.

    And I’m one of those damned liberals…

  8. #8 |  JDG | 

    When it comes to anything remotely towards politics, I have almost nothing in common with my wife’s rabid right wing parents in western PA…except in this case. Murtha was as corrupt as they come without going to jail, which really just means that he’s more clever than most.

    But, there’s one enormous precedent: Richard Nixon. When that SOB finally kicked it, the papers were flooded with hagiographic remembrances of a “complicated” politician. He was an interesting both as a person and as a cipher for politics in general, but above all he was a terrible person. I don’t see a ton of difference here, beyond the level of office attained.

    All of this is an outgrowth of our celebrity/cult-of-personality approach to politics (which, in fairness, is not exactly unique to our country). I mean, really, even when it’s someone I happily voted for (not often), I absolutely cringe at the nonstop hero-worship crap that substitutes for “journalism” when it comes to politicians.

    My $0.02.

  9. #9 |  Gm | 

    I never said that murtha was a saint but it’s pretty sad to hate on someone after they die just because they were a politician. Must make for a cold bitter life – either that or you havent ever lost anyone before. Radley did the same thing for Ted Kennedy. Spare the Libertarian masturbation material for once.

  10. #10 |  John Wilburn | 

    # 1 @Gm

    “Speak not ill of the dead” prohibits (at least on a moral level) someone from speaking falsehoods about a deceased person; speaking the truth is perfectly acceptable, and, when speaking of politicians, entirely reasonable…

  11. #11 |  Mattocracy | 

    GM, seriously, get over yourself. Murtha was a politician and crooked one at that. Moreover, Murtha knew he was a bad guy. He didn’t kid himself. I can’t imagine he would give two shits if he knew there were people who talked shit about him after died. Bad people like him don’t feel bad about that kind of stuff. If Murtha wanted us to all say nice things about him after he died, he should’ve thought about that when he was putting together appropriation bills. But he didn’t, so fuck ’em.

  12. #12 |  InMD | 

    I tend to agree.

  13. #13 |  TC | 

    My condolences to the Murtha family, as they will reap the rewards of ill gotten gains.

    Actually as near as I can tell, another one bites the dust, finally! It’s a start, keep the plow moving.

  14. #14 |  PW | 

    I felt the same way when Kennedy passed. They were lavishing him with state funerals and glowing obituaries, but as a taxpayer bilked by his behavior and as a common citizen who lacked the privilege of getting away with breaking the law for everything up to and including murder, I’m not ashamed to admit that a small part of me actually found an occasion of joy in his passing and a sense of justice in the fact that it was an ignominious and drawn out death.

    I know it’s taboo in our modern culture to piss on the dead since finding things to take “offense” over is a veritable art form, but it has not always been this way. Bad men, and particularly bad political leaders, used to be openly condemned at their passing. When Rome had a particularly bad or despotic emperor or lesser prefect, the Senate would mark his passing with a bill of Damnatio Memoriae. In more recent times despots and thugs have had similar inglorious ends. Mussolini’s body was strung up on a lamp post and battered about like a pinata.

    While I would not wish similar barbarism on any corpse today, I do think it would be healthy for our culture to resume the practice of condemning particularly noxious cases of dead politicians. Kennedy was one of them, as is Murtha.

  15. #15 |  Aresen | 

    There are few people I wish dead; Murtha wasn’t one of them.

    I liked the fact he told off Bush for the Iraq war and IIRC, he was one of the few Congressmen whose own son was actually in combat in Iraq. So I have to give him credit for that.

    However, I do not think I must praise him simply because he is dead. He was a porkmeister supreme. The notion that a politician should be elected for the purpose of allowing his constituents to “get their share” is revolting. It is the heart and soul of all political corruption. Murtha embodied that corruption. I won’t mourn him.

  16. #16 |  Aresen | 

    “A statesman is a dead politician.”
    “The world needs more statesmen.”

  17. #17 |  Gm | 

    @aresen and all the other idiots:

    You are the reason that Libertarians will never be anything but a irrelevant third party. Enjoy your insignifigance!

  18. #18 |  Aresen | 


    Enjoy your life kissing ass!

  19. #19 |  Mike T | 


    No one is attacking him just for being a politician. Those of us who work for a living have no reason to respect him or speak well of him. He was a scumbag who exemplified every civic vice a politician can muster short of commanding death squads. His corruption issues go back at least to his brush with the FBI during Abscam.

  20. #20 |  Alex | 

    Unapologetic to the end. Good riddance. If only the rest would follow suit.

  21. #21 |  Hardon | 

    You cretins should ask yourselves this:

    “Would I rather the money go to pork-barrel projects or fund the war on drugs?”

  22. #22 |  SJE | 

    GM: Radley is an equal opportunity critic, left or right, alive or dead. While they are eulogizing Murtha, doesnt it make sense to put it into perspective? Radley is a journalist and must comment on the issues of the day when they arise: no one is going to much care in a few weeks.

  23. #23 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Doesn’t seem to matter what sort of scoundrels they really were.”

    Of course it doesn’t matter what SORT of scoundrels they really were!

    They’re SCOUNDRELS!

    ‘Nuf said.

  24. #24 |  Aresen | 

    | Hardon | February 9th, 2010 at 8:17 pm
    You cretins should ask yourselves this:

    “Would I rather the money go to pork-barrel projects or fund the war on drugs?”

    Uhh, just when did Murtha ever speak out against the War on Drugs? My quick google turned up only occasions when he supported it.

    So you are offering a false dichotomy. The correct answer is ‘neither’.

  25. #25 |  the friendly grizzly | 

    ” So I have to give him credit for that.”

    I give it to his son.

  26. #26 |  Aresen | 

    the friendly grizzly

    Not to slight Murtha’s son, but my point was that Murtha did not use his influence to keep his son out of harm’s way.

    Unlike Bush the Elder or Gore the almost first.

  27. #27 |  SJE | 

    GM “You are the reason that Libertarians will never be anything but a irrelevant third party. Enjoy your insignifigance!”

    GM: why do you think that people need to form a political party to wield influence? There is no “Roman Catholic” party, no “Jewish” party, no “Israel” party, but there are powerful interest groups.

  28. #28 |  CRNewsom | 

    @ #4 | SJE | February 9th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Not meaning to nitpick, but Kentucky is KY, not KT.

  29. #29 |  SJE | 

    My bad! Sorry Kentucky, no disrespect intended!

  30. #30 |  Andrew Williams | 

    GM: If you’re going to critique libertarians, at least learn how to spell, you mook.

  31. #31 |  Guido | 

    You lost your supposed moral high ground with that last comment. Question. By your logic, when a person like say Hitler dies we shouldn’t talk negatively about them in respect of their family right? What? It’s for the children?

  32. #32 |  Mark F. | 

    Jesus, more rubbish about earmarks. For the last time: earmarks do not increase total appropriations. Congress decides how much money is going to be spent, and then money for earmarks is taken out. Without earmarks, the President — rather than Congress– would decide how all the money would be spent. All appropriations should be earmarked in their entirety, as a matter of fact. Congress is entitled to earmark spending, and has a duty to do so.

    Of course, most earmarks are absurd –but so is most government spending

  33. #33 |  Federalist Paupers » Blog Archive » Truth > Propiety | 

    […] on Rep. Jack Murtha’s death  which — surprise, surprise — I also found on Balko’s site: If Mr. Murtha on his own had traveled the country picking pockets, robbing banks, and burgling […]