You see, the Proxmire career in the Senate focused on spending and “big government”--how a profligate Congress had lost control of the purse strings. He authored two books: Uncle Sam--The Last of the Bigtime Spenders (1972) and The Fleecing of America (1980). He is perhaps best known for creating the monthly “Golden Fleece Awards” in 1975. In this way, he "publicized outlandish government spending, bureaucratic wastage, or money misused in the case of self-advancement." He also served as chairman of the Committee on Banking.
When Proxmire joined the Senate in 1957, our National Debt stood at $275 BILLION; when he began the “Golden Fleece Awards” in 1975, our National Debt stood at $577 BILLION--a 210 percent increase; when he retired from the Senate in 1989, our National Debt stood at $2.857 TRILLION--another 495 percent increase; and when he died on December 15, 2005, our National Debt stood at $8.1 TRILLION--yet another 284 percent increase, or rather a 2,945 percent increase from when he first joined the Senate in 1957.
Proxmire may seem like one muted voice in the wilderness of big government spending run amok, but he was unrelenting in his quest to keep the public informed. He passionately believed that governing be exercised in the light of day with full disclosures made to the people. He never forgot that when President submits a budget, and when a Congress approves it (and appropriates the dollars for spending); it is the people's money that is being spent. This applies to “money” raised by taxes and “money” raised by debt as well.
His Golden Fleece Awards spotlighted Federal funding for “tequila fish”--were drunken fish more aggressive?, “how to buy Worchestershire sauce,” the “New Jersey Sewer Museum,” using 64 Navy planes to fly 1,334 officers to the Las Vegas Hilton for the 1975 Tailhook reunion, “how to find a good surfing beach,” housing moon rocks in a $2.8 MILLION lunar lab addition, and let us NEVER forget the infamous $600 toilet seats. Is that why they are called “thrones”?
The Golden Fleece Awards are needed now more than ever, but they need to be upgraded to becoming the Platinum Fleece Awards. This will reflect the catastrophic drop in the purchasing power of the US dollar--a 2005 dollar has the purchasing power of SEVEN CENTS relative to that of the dollar in 1900. Inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods and our ballooning debt has accelerated the demise of the value of the buck--and the plastic bucks.
We as individuals and households have escalated/upgraded from the mundane generic plastic of ordinary credit cards, thru those gold cards of more status and bigger lines of credit--to the current generation of platinum card with $100,000 lines of credit. This is also the case for Uncle $ugar. Millions have given way to Billions, and Federal “accounting” (and I use that term loosely as an oxymoron) is now figured in terms of Trillions. I mean... on the day of Proxmire’s death, Uncle $ugar had already “maxed out” 8.1 MILLION platinum cards – each with a $100,000 line of credit. Given my recent holiday shopping experiences, I wouldn’t want to be behind Uncle in line as he searches his “Hummer” for a useable card!
Proxmire will be missed and remembered. In researching this column, I came upon this quote of his: “Power always has to be kept in check; power exercised in secret, especially under the cloak of national security, is doubly dangerous.” WHOA! What were you watching Sunday night at 9:00 EST?
I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.
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This story was published on December 20, 2005.