Return of the Golden Fleece

The late Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire issued a monthly Golden Fleece Award to public officials who bestowed taxpayers’ funds on risible projects. Senator Proxmire issued the award for more than a decade until he retired from the Senate in 1989. Proxmire was a vanishing breed of Democrat who purported to oppose government waste while supporting all the Great Society programs that really opened the spigots, yet the spirit of his Golden Fleece Award survives in the great Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (Republican).

Senator Coburn has taken to issuing annual editions of his Wastebook to pay tribute to the kind of projects that Proxmire ridiculed on a monthly basis. Senator Coburn has just posted the fourth annual edition of his Wastebook here along with a press release identifying highlights here.

The New York Times obituary of Senator Proxmire recalls that one of his Golden Fleece awards went to the National Science Foundation for spending $84,000 to learn why people fall in love. One can see the continuity between Proxmire and Coburn in this year’s edition of the Wastebook. Senator Coburn identifies an even bigger waste of money for an even less worthy project brought to us by then Chairman Jim Leach’s National Endowment for the Humanities. Let’s hear it for The Popular Romance Project: the NEH has awarded it nearly $1 million since 2010 to “explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective—while looking back across time as far as the ancient Greeks.”

You may recall that as a candidate for president in 2008 Barack Obama promised to “go through the budget line by line [and] eliminate programs that don’t work.” Have the fact checkers weighed in on that one yet?


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