Consider this headline from Monday's New York Post:
New Weiner Photos Taken In House Gym Could Be An Ethics Breach
These are the ones of Congressman Weiner in a towel grabbing his spambot penis in Michael Jackson fashion.
You follow the legal distinction? The Weiner Tweeter would be fine if he were photographing himself fondling his genitals in a San Francisco bathhouse, but it's an ethics breach if he does it in the House gym because that's a "taxpayer-funded facility".
Why? Not "why is Anthony Weiber grabbing his crotch?" That's just how he rolls. But why should Anthony Weiner be provided with a taxpayer-funded gym to crotch-grab in?
If the Board of Selectmen of my small town in New Hampshire were to propose a taxpayer-funded municipal gym, there would be an uproar at Town Meeting and they'd all be voted out of office. Same for every town in this state, I'd wager - and even over the river in Vermont, too. What then is it about being a national legislator that makes a taxpayer-funded gym apparently entirely non-risible?
Nothing. Except that it's just another of a trillion-and-one public expenditures from federally-funded cowboy poetry to federally-funded experiments on the effects of meth and cocaine on menstruating monkeys. To modify Stalin, one waste of taxpayer money is a fiscal tragedy, a million of them is a rounding error.
I don't think Congressman Weiner should have a federal bathhouse to auto-snap his towel in. In fact, I believe there's a direct line between the existence of a House gym and the likes of Anthony Weiner. When the people accept that the political class has the right to send them the bill for an activity that every other American has to make private provision for, it's telling you something about the relationship between the citizenry and their rulers.
Obviously, in the scheme of things, a House gym isn't that expensive. But then, item by item, nor are many things. Bill Clinton is right that serious budgetary reform means addressing the entitlements because "that's where the money is". But, for the same reason, Democrats are happy to let the GOP talk about Medicare reform day in and day out because, as they see it, (a) it makes Republicans sound threatening but (b) it's never going to happen it. As Dems figure it, the sheer intractability of Medicare reform is a great way to tie savvy wonky conservatives in knots.
They may have a point. And, if you regard the debt not merely as a green-eyeshade issue but a moral one, too, it's critical to keep discussing Medicare within the context of broader government spending. Everywhere you turn in America, you see the excess and entitlement statism breeds. A taxpayer-funded Weiner workout is part of that entitlement culture, too. The Brokest Nation in History can't afford a House gym. That's easier than Medicare reform, and symbolically not unimportant. So The New York Post got that headline wrong: The real "ethics breach" is sticking me and my neighbors with the bill for this rubbish. Enough.