It’s like thinking back to a particularly horrific nightmare. You were in it, you knew what it was and how to stop it, but you just couldn’t. That’s the sick feeling limited government advocates should get when they see how over eighty million taxpayer dollars were wasted by the former kingmaker of Louisiana Democrats, Bob Odom, but they also should derive from it a larger lesson.
This space has documented thoroughly (most recently here) the capital projects favored by the former long-time secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, who served seven terms before being forced into a general election runoff in 2007 and then withdrawing to elect current Secretary Mike Strain, that identified them as boondoggles from the start and sounded an alarm of taxpayer money in jeopardy. Unfortunately, as Strain continues to concede, the assessment was entirely correct.
It could have been worse. In addition to two failed government enterprises, dealing with cedar mulching and sugar milling, another sugar mill had been proposed. But head of the State Bond Commission, whose panel must approve such deals utilizing debt, and Treasurer John Kennedy, who had gone along with the mill that got built, balked at the arrangement for another, more expensive version, and eventually was joined by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco with objections. Together, they had enough votes on the Commission to have the idea rejected, and in doing so preventing the waste from doubling.
Kennedy then was and Blanco still is s Democrat, so their bucking the guy who had the best voter mobilization machine in the state for Democrats was significant and indicative of the changing atmosphere. Kennedy was looking to cruise into another term the next year and was in the middle of a pivot from being a populist of the left to one of the right, transitioning from the different political environments surrounding is his failed 2004 Senate campaign to what would become his failed 2008 Senate contest, culminating in his switching parties prior to the 2007 reelection bid. Blanco already was in the midst of her reelection campaign where delivering this sign of independence and going against bigger government could help in a difficult electoral environment, but which attempt she dumped months later upon realizing despite this attitudinal change she could not win again.
For the Louisiana public finally was getting fed up enough about these kinds of expenditures, and this would become reflected in subsequent vote choices in state elections. While this space was a vanguard of this new majority attitude, unfortunately the public had yet to quite catch up on that, which had permitted Odom to continue in office and to have his way on these capital expenditures and means of financing them.
But what’s important to remember, and helps to explain why what now seems widespread agreement that these decisions never should have been made that then seemed not to trouble many, is that Odom had plenty of assent from majorities of the time, in executive offices and the Legislature. Democrats, who propagated a populist narrative that big government had to be in place to smooth out the vagaries of an economic and social system they falsely claimed made the distribution of resources little more than a lottery if not rigged to favor some, commanded electoral majorities. This consensus in part eroded precisely because the excesses of their rule became more widely known, with Odom’s part contributing.
Liberalism does nothing but divide and distract, denying individual agency and promoting group identification that leads to balkanization that justifies taking from one to satisfy the urges of another. It sustains its political movements by redistributing to a favored class from an exploited class to satisfy the pecuniary and ideological needs of a base, instead of advocating for creating structures that permit maximization of individual effort that combines into benefits for all who maximize their efforts to contribute. The unused hulks that Strain deals with reminds us of the consequences of liberalism, and the only value they ever will have beyond salvage is as tokens warning our future public policy away from this path of selfishness.