The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

15 December 2005

The best of contrarians

You think someone like John McCain is a maverick? Consider the case of Edward William Proxmire, Senator from Wisconsin, who managed to annoy both Republicans and his fellow Democrats for thirty years, and who died today at the age of 90.

Proxmire came to the Senate in 1957 to finish the balance of Joe McCarthy's term, which should have been a clue. One indication of his dedication: for nearly twenty years, every day the Senate was in session, he gave a speech in favor of the UN's anti-genocide treaty, which went largely ignored until Ronald Reagan made it a campaign issue in 1984. (The Senate finally approved the treaty, and President Reagan signed it in 1988.)

But Proxmire is best remembered as the most frugal American this side of Jack Benny. In 1975, he began issuing his Golden Fleece Awards to examples of government spending he considered particularly egregious. These were seldom received well: the second such award went jointly to NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research for "spending ... $500,000 to determine why monkeys clench their jaws," and researcher Dr Ronald Hutchinson, feeling he was being held up to public ridicule, sued Proxmire; the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided that Hutchinson and his staff were not public figures according to the usual definitions and that the Senator had defamed them. The Senate paid Hutchinson a settlement, which Proxmire reimbursed.

Proxmire's tightness with a dollar extended to his own reelection: his typical campaign budget was in the low three figures.

"The original Porkbuster," says Michelle Malkin, and this time she's right on the mark. Boy, do we need him now.

Posted at 1:17 PM to Political Science Fiction

Yet supposedly stingy Proxmire was immovable in his insistence on generous subsidies to Wisconsin's dairy industry. Claimed it was a matter of strategic importance. National survival, even.

I suppose it all depends on whose milk cow is getting gored.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 3:58 AM on 16 December 2005

Every politician, it seems, has a blind spot, and this was Proxmire's. (Tom Coburn, who epitomizes the contemporary Porkbuster, seems to be obsessed with lesbians.) Perfection, of course, is denied us.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:10 AM on 16 December 2005