Out of all the members of Congress, it's a safe bet to say that Nashville's own Rep. Jim Cooper is the biggest opponent of legislative earmarks in the history of bicameral government in the Milky Way galaxy. On his website, Cooper calls them "a source of government corruption and a massive waste of taxpayer dollars," adding that he's refused to take part in the process "for years."
On Wednesday afternoon, Cooper rose to the defense of taxpayer-funded research into dog urine, guinea pig eardrums and, yes, the reproductive habits of the parasitic flies known as screwworms — all federally supported studies that have inspired major scientific breakthroughs. Together with two House Republicans and a coalition of major science associations, Cooper has created the first annual Golden Goose Awards to honor federally funded research “whose work may once have been viewed as unusual, odd, or obscure, but has produced important discoveries benefiting society in significant ways.”
Federally-funded research of dog urine ultimately gave scientists and understanding of the effect of hormones on the human kidney, which in turn has been helpful for diabetes patients. A study called “Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig” resulted in treatment of early hearing loss in infants. And that randy screwworm study? It helped researchers control the population of a deadly parasite that targets cattle—costing the government $250,000 but ultimately saving the cattle industry more than $20 billion, according to Cooper’s office.
On the one hand, we applaud the congressman for his support of science funding despite the nation's hatred of fact-based analysis. Science funding is not a federal priority in recent years, and the return on investment for seemingly innocuous and wasteful projects can bear worthwhile fruit down the line. On the other hand, we wish the guy would be more transparent about his cognitively dissonant stance on the issue of earmarks, particularly how much he's requested himself.
According to federal spending data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, Cooper has either requested on his lonesome or been a party to a collective request of earmarks totaling $42,583,000 in 2008, with a good chunk of that money going to the Tennessee National Guard. Since he's a member of the House Committee on Armed Services, it shouldn't be surprising that Cooper funneled money into something as extravagant as Raydon's Virtual Warrior Initiative, a military training program that seeks to harden soldiers via the digital rigors of a computer simulation akin to Modern Warfare 3 (minus the potty-mouthed 11-year-olds on Xbox Live).
Since Ezra Klein & Co. don't live in the 5th District, they're probably not familiar with Cooper's penchant for being both for and against earmarks at the same time, an unfortunate lapse in journalistic vigilance that allows the "Blue Dog" narrative to poke its head out of the kennel:
Cooper himself can’t be accused of being a free-spending liberal: As a member of the Blue Dog Caucus that sponsored the Simpson-Bowles plan on the House floor, his own deficit reduction proposals have garnered praise from prominent fiscal conservatives. The two House Republicans who helped him unveil the Golden Goose Awards — named after Aesop’s fable of “the goose that laid the golden egg” — also voted for Sen. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) most recent budget. But the congressmen stress that federal money spent on basic scientific research is well worth the upfront investment.
The column ends with Cooper parroting an Arthur C. Clarke maxim — "We create what every previous generation would have described as magic" — probably because quoting George Orwell would have seemed tacky somehow.