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These are salad days for those conservatives whose philosophy is confirmed by, and whose agenda is advanced by, bad behavior of government.

Recently, for example, the House of Representatives voted to continue spending tax dollars to subsidize, for large corporations and wealthy trade associations, the overseas marketing of juice and candy bars, whiskey and prunes and other profitable commodities. And the House did this after voting to terminate a less expensive program that helps export democracy.The Agriculture Department's Market Promotion Program, begun in 1985, will, like the honey subsidy and the wool subsidy and much else, live forever. But the political class is currently insisting that the budget "crisis" requires the taxpayers to turn over more money to the political class. So that class is grudgingly making cosmetic cuts in some particularly egregious programs.

So the House did trim the MPP from $147 million to $127 million. That is government "austerity": a 13.6 percent cut in a program that is 100 percent indefensible. The MPP's survival says much about the ersatz "crisis" currently being used to justify tax increases.

The MPP funds advertising abroad for American agricultural products. This is yet another example of the government's soliciitousness on behalf of the strong. Of the 200 U.S. corporations with the largest advertising budgets, 13 last year got a total of $9 million from the MPP, an average of $700,000 each. But the advertising budgets of those corporations range from $45 million to $538 million, so the taxpayers' contributions can hardly be called the difference between competitive success and failure.

On June 29 the House voted to pour this $127 million (with hundreds of millions more to come as the years roll by) into the private coffers of people who, thus subsidized, will have more resources freed up to use as campaign contributions. But seven days earlier, the House had a moment of parsimony. It did not just make a 13.6 percent nick in the National Endowment for Democracy, it voted to kill it.

The NED helps democracy by means of small but life-giving grants for trade unions, student groups, publications, legal assistance for the persecuted, and other measures. It has a record of success in helping democracy put down roots in stony social soil. By voting to stop this cost-effective work, the House voted to save $50 million, less than half what it is eager to spend on handouts to corporations through the MPP.

Those two votes illustrate what most congressmen most care about. What is the salient difference between the MPP and the NED? The former can, and the latter cannot, serve the dominant desire of most House members: to protect their incumbency by enlarging the ranks of grateful recipients of government money.

The political class, confronted with a rising tide of public contempt, comforts itself with condescension. The public, says the political class, just does not understand what we do. Actually, that class is fortunate that the public is too busy to read the Congressional Record. As understanding of contemporary government increases, so does disdain for it.