Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Conserving Resources as Progressive Governance

It says something about the state of American politics when taking care of what we have - supposedly a "conservative" concept - is actually a progressive idea. But that's exactly the case in 2008, after 40 years of government - Republican and Democratic alike - rushing headlong into feeding the military-industrial complex while at the same time neglecting our aging infrastructure.

In his column in today's Times, Bob Herbert discusses America's failure to keep up with maintaining its infrastructure:

"The idea that the nation had all but stopped investing in its infrastructure, and that officials in Washington have ignored the crucial role of job creation as the cornerstone of a thriving economy is beyond mind-boggling. It’s impossible to understand.

"Impossible, that is, until you realize that bandits don’t waste time repairing a building that they’re looting.
"One of the reasons the U.S. is in such deep trouble is that it has stopped being smart — turning its back on excellence, sophistication and long-term planning — in its public policies and corporate behavior. We’ve seen it in Iraq, in New Orleans, in the fiscal policies of the Bush administration, in the scandalous neglect of public education, in the financial sector meltdown, the auto industry and on and on. We’ve lionized dimwits. And now we’re paying the price.

"The U.S. is moving from a period in which leaders spent money on wars and on lavish tax cuts for the rich, but not on investments in the nation’s future. That era of breathtaking irresponsibility must come to an end. Which means that now, with so much federal money soon to be available for infrastructure projects, it’s crucially important to spend the money as wisely as possible."

As Senator Christopher Dodd says, "Our major economic competitors in the 21st century are spending seven, eight, nine percent of their gross domestic product on infrastructure. We’re spending almost nothing at all.”

Felix Rohatyn and Everett Ehrlich comment, “Ultimately, we face a future of mass transit strained beyond capacity, planes sitting on tarmacs, slow traffic and wasteful sprawl, ports that lack the capacity to operate efficiently, and increasing numbers of bridges and dams that are obsolescent and dangerous to the public’s health and safety.”

So what to do? "The question now," Herbert suggests, is whether the nation, in the midst of a full-blown economic emergency, can keep its cool and be smart as it marshals billions of public dollars for a new infrastructure initiative. It won’t be helpful to have sparkling new bridges to nowhere being built from coast to coast."

Thankfully, we've elected a smart, thoughtful person to be our next president - if anyone can lead America out of the this mess, perhaps it can be Barack Obama. As he announced in a radio address last Saturday, “[My plan] will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jump-start job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy.

“We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.”

As Herbert notes, "The message is many years overdue. The hope is that it hasn’t come too late."