Sunday, July 15, 2012

What Happened to You, America?

By Tom Kando

Throughout its history, America has been the country of the future, a progressive and forward-looking country that planned ahead and had a vision. America was always gung-ho, always ready to go ahead, to show the world how to do it better, how to build  it better.

The current high-speed train mess in California is a prototype of how far we have fallen as a people.  While the governor and the legislature are still keeping the project  (barely) alive, a majority of the public is now against it (aided and abetted by short-sighted  opinion leaders like  Sacramento Bee  columnist Dan Walters).

I am not talking about the litigation morass into which the project is already falling, the conflicting interests, the poor planning, the inability to move forward, etc. I am talking about the fact that most people are  basically opposed to the  concept as a whole.

It’s cheap to rant and rave about “those damn politicians,” but here (as in many other cases), the real problem is ourselves, the public.

It seems that we, Americans, have lost our nerve. High-speed rail? Nah, too expensive. A waste of money.

Imagine if we had reacted the same way in the past?

When they were about to build the first transcontinental railroad (1863-1869), did people say, “What for? Why waste the money?”

When they started the land grant universities in the 19th century, did people react with the same negativity?

National Parks were created, starting with Yellowstone in 1872, and later, President Theodore Roosevelt was a major force behind this. Did people malign him and call him a socialist?

Did Americans feel that building the  Panama Canal (primarily during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Taft  in the early 20th century) was a waste?

Did they feel the same way in the 1930s,  about the  many vast public projects during President Franklin Roosevelt’s terms,  the dozens of hydroelectric facilities of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate bridge and the Oakland Bay bridge?

What if a majority of Americans had rejected the entire New Deal, including Social Security?

...or the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb and win the war?

...or the Interstate Highway system, begun in 1956 under President Eisenhower’s watch?

...or President Kennedy’s  Apollo Program in the 1960s, the moon landings and NASA?

What if Americans and the Supreme Court  had voted down  Medicare, when President Johnson introduced it in 1965?

America’s entire history has been the glorious partnership of the private and public sectors, as when the federal government assisted these vast projects with land grants, bonds and other resources.

Today, after the retirement of the space shuttle,  America no longer has  a space program. We rely on Russia to get to the space station. Meanwhile, China, Japan and the Europeans are launching rockets (Oh yes, we have some private companies trying their hand at it, too...)

Our infrastructure is beginning to resemble that of Third World countries. In my own neck of the woods, they have been retrofitting  the  Oakland Bay Bridge for 23 years (!) And it’s nowhere near done. You know how long it took to build the bridge? 3 years!

That’s what you get when you decide to become “Conservative.”  The word’s meaning is clear: If you are conservative, it means that you want to stay in the past, not move into the future. It means that you oppose innovation. You oppose new and more efficient technologies (such as high-speed trains).  You are a Luddite, like the folks who opposed new technology at the outset of the Industrial Revolution.

Bruce Maiman says it well, in a Sacramento Bee  column on July 10: “ ”America used to build things...(but now) it seems that what we do best...  is make excuses to justify not doing anything.”

And the excuses are always twofold: (1) We can’t afford it, and (2) it takes away our freedoms.

Both excuses are lame:

(1) We spend $5.3 billion a month in Afghanistan. The entire high-speed rail project in California would cost less than 11 more months of that idiotic war.

(2): This same old refrain is heard every time that  society takes a  step forward to  improve the life of its citizens: Today’s arguments against   Obamacare  are identical to those made against Social Security before  its introduction in 1935 and Medicare’s start in 1965: these programs were also  said to be tools of  government  oppression, taking away our freedoms, blah blah.  But within a few years, once  those programs were up and running smoothly, 80% to 85% of the people came around to support them. This is exactly what will happen with Obamacare.

But the current widespread opposition to any farsighted projects and policies is  a sure sign that Americans have stopped thinking about their future. Not good. leave comment here