It may seem to be a small story about a relatively small amount of money when talking about government spending, but it is another in a long line of examples that underscore the growing disenchantment with big government among voters.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spent $823,200 of economic stimulus funds in 2009 on a study by a UCLA research team to teach uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex.
“NIH Announces the Availability of Recovery Act Funds for Competitive Revision Applications,” the grant abstract states. “We propose to evaluate the feasibility of a post-coital genital hygiene study among men unwilling to be circumcised in Orange Farm, South Africa.”
In February of 2009 when President Obama announced the stimulus he said this:
I understand that some might be skeptical of this plan. Our government has already spent a good deal of money, but we haven't yet seen that translate into more jobs or higher incomes or renewed confidence in our economy. That's why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won't just throw money at our problems – we'll invest in what works.
Yet given this spending example, there’s absolutely no reason to drop our skepticism, is there? And there’s certainly no reason to trust what politicians - any politician – says. This was supposed to be “different.” Obama claimed that this wasn’t just a new plan, “but a whole new approach” to addressing our “most urgent challenges”. He further claimed that only government could “break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy – where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending.”
And the stimulus, or American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan was “the answer.” His administration, unlike others, knew how to do what was necessary to use taxpayer and borrowed money to get us back on our feet.
Of course everyone knew that a feasibility study about teaching African men to wash their genitals after sex was certainly a prime candidate to fulfill those assertions, claims and promises of creating American jobs.
We were also promised a “transparent” process in this “whole new approach.” As Obama promised:
Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made transparently, and informed by independent experts wherever possible. Every American will be able to hold Washington accountable for these decisions by going online to see how and where their tax dollars are being spent.
Yet, when trying to find this grant on line at the Recovery.gov website and checking for grants in the “0 to 500M” category under the recipient “California State University Systems”, I got, “Your search returned no results.” Apparently the desire to provide real transparency was as much spin as the promises about how the money would be spent.
Finally, we were promised that the “economic recovery plan” was “free from earmarks and pet projects.” Of course we quickly found out that was nonsense too. The bill paid off a huge array of political debts to unions such as $1 billion to the controversial Community Oriented Policing Services COPS Hiring Program. The “green lobby” received its payoff with such spending as “$10M for bike and walking trails, $200M for plug-in car stations and $400 million for NASA scientists to conduct climate change research. In fact special interests – Democratic special interests – did exceedingly well at the government “stimulus” trough with spending like $246 million for Hollywood, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $75 million for smoking cessation (which ironically contradicts the latest version of SCHIP that is funded largely by new taxes on cigarettes) and $4.19 billion open to thankfully now defunct ACORN.
CNSNews.com, who ran the story about the genital washing grant posed a question to the NIMH. It asked, ““The Census Bureau says the median household income in the United States is $52,000. How would you explain to the average American mom and dad -- who make $52,000 per year -- that taxing them to pay for this grant was justified?” The head of NIMH referred the question to an assistant who never responded.
It is a question that should be asked every time a dime of taxpayer money is spent and one that politicians should be made to answer whether they like it or not. But the real point here is found in the glib words smoothly delivered by a politician who meant none of them. He claimed government was the answer. He claimed only government could fix the problem. He claimed that the spending was necessary and pork free. He promised transparency.
On each and every one of those points, government has failed to fulfill the promise. And that is very big reason why the people of this country simply don’t trust anything which government says anymore.
Correction: In the above post, I incorrectly stated the UCLA grant information wasn't avaiable on the site. It was. I regret the error. My thanks to Edward Pound of recovery.gov for correctly guiding me to the place on the site where the grant is listed. Although the information is available, it is not that easily found by the casual user. When I used the sites given pull down menus on both of the names I used (CA Univ Sys and Univ Sys of CA) and the pull down menus that it gives the choices of "grants" and "0-500m," neither returned a grant. Next time, I promise to use the 'advanced search' feature.