If these are the worst of the worst…

IF THESE ARE THE WORST OF THE WORST…. I don’t doubt for a moment that there were probably some wasteful spending projects in the stimulus package. Likewise, it seems plausible that there’s some “pork” in the omnibus spending bill, too.

But have you noticed how difficult it’s been for conservatives to come up with real, credible examples? Given all the spending involved, it should be a lot easier.

The list of failed examples is getting rather long. Disney-to-Vegas HSR? Doesn’t exist. The gang tattoo-removal program? Money well spent. Marsh-mouse preservation? Doesn’t exist. Disaster insurance to livestock producers? A sound investment. Volcano monitoring? Seems like a pretty good idea.

John McCain also blasted “$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah.” Matt Yglesias, without the benefit of a Senate office staff, spent a few minutes on Google and discovered that Mormon crickets are reaching high levels in Utah, and destroying large areas of alfalfa fields. Given the impact on the area and industry, “$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah” doesn’t sound especially wasteful.

McCain also condemned “$951,500 for the Oregon Solar Highway” as #1 on his list of the “porkiest” projects in the omnibus bill. Again, this hardly sounds like an outrageous expenditure.

The Oregon Solar Highway is “the nation’s first solar panel project on a major U.S. highway,” which seeks to use a row of solar panels about five feet wide and two football fields long to feed electricity directly into Portland General Electric’s systemwide grid. It is meant to “account for 28 percent of the energy needed to power lights that illuminate the highway’s sweeping interchange at night.”

A pilot program for no-emissions alternative energy on a federal highway, costing less than $1 million, is the single most offensive “pork” project in a spending bill? In some ways, doesn’t that prove the opposite of McCain’s point?

It gets back to a point we discussed yesterday. McCain — or more likely, some of his interns — went through the bill looking for measures that they thought sounded funny. This led to McCain’s list, which some in the media were quick to promote. McCain could have taken the time to look into these expenditures, evaluating their merit, and in some cases, their ability to actually save taxpayers money. But that would have been mature and intellectually serious — and where’s the fun in that?

As Jon Chait put it, “What’s on display is the worst elements of political demagoguery meeting the worst elements of the instant-reaction internet culture. They think the very idea of trying to learn about something before you take a position on it is a joke.”