President Obama made an important speech yesterday, focusing on economic policy.
Much of the coverage has focused upon his insistence that a robust economy grows “from the middle out” and not from crumbs “trickling down” from the 1%–that when the middle class lacks disposable income, otherwise known as the wherewithal to buy things, the economy stalls.
That should be obvious.
It was another “should be obvious even to an idiot” part of the speech, however, that most resonated with me.
We’ve got ports that aren’t ready for the new supertankers that will begin passing through the new Panama Canal in two years’ time. We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare. Businesses depend on our transportation systems, our power grids, our communications networks – and rebuilding them creates good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. And yet, as a share of our economy, we invest less in our infrastructure than we did two decades ago. That’s inefficient at a time when it’s as cheap as it’s been since the 1950s. It’s inexcusable at a time when so many of the workers who do this for a living sit idle. The longer we put this off, the more expensive it will be, and the less competitive we will be. The businesses of tomorrow won’t locate near old roads and outdated ports; they’ll relocate to places with high-speed internet; high-tech schools; systems that move air and auto traffic faster, not to mention get parents home to their kids faster. We can watch that happen in other countries, or we can choose to make it happen right here, in America.
Given the choice of representatives they have sent to Washington, I can only conclude that a significant number of voters are less concerned about crossing those aging bridges or driving on those crumbling roads than they are about what I do with my uterus. Despite the jingoism and “We’re number one” protestations, they really don’t care that wireless access, citizens’ health and children’s education in other countries far exceed ours.
Those of us who do care about such things–those of us who were raised to believe that part of our obligation as human beings is to leave a better world for our children and grandchildren–look helplessly at a Congress controlled by childish buffoons who seem to have only one goal: say no to anything this President wants.
We can debate forever whether this behavior is rooted in excessive partisanship, fear of change or the color of the President’s skin, but those who insist that they just have “policy differences” with the administration cannot cite “policies” that justify allowing America to disintegrate. I can attribute opposition to healthcare reform to policy differences (but not 39 useless votes to repeal it–votes taken in lieu of doing the nation’s business.) I can understand different approaches to education reform. But what “policy” argument is there for allowing our roads and bridges to crumble? What “policy” prevents us from putting people to work repairing and updating our aging electrical grid?
Recessions cause all kinds of pain, but they also offer us an opportunity to fix things “on the cheap.” We will lose that opportunity because–thanks to gerrymandering and political gamesmanship– we have sent a group of bratty children to Congress instead of thoughtful representatives who are willing to work for the good of this country’s future.
A genuine opposition party picks its battles. It doesn’t throw a tantrum and scream “no” no matter what is put before it. It doesn’t block administration nominees or initiatives simply because it can, without regard for their merits.
We are at a crossroads. We can emerge from this toxic time a better, more mature America, or–as seems increasingly likely–we can go the way of other empires. Down.
Wherever we go, we evidently won’t be able to take our roads and bridges to get there.