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Hullabaloo


Thursday, January 29, 2015

 

We used to build things

by Tom Sullivan

As The Wire's Frank Sobotka once said, "We used to make shit in this country, build shit." But not lately.

In a country whose population has grown by 235 million and where vehicle travel has increased by 2.2 trillion miles since 1960, the highway system has grown by only 15 percent, according to the Washington Post. It is badly in need of maintenance at a time when traditional funding sources are not keeping pace:

“The growth we’re having in this country can’t be met with current resources,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an interview this month.

The need for a new source of transportation funding is under discussion in Washington this week, where lawmakers face a May deadline to come up with a plan before current funding expires.

I'm not a federal planner, but since the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993, do you think that might have something to do with it? Put me on the commission, right?

Our penny-pinching brain trust on the Hill can't figure it out. The people unashamed to spend hours each day begging for campaign donations, yet afraid to ask Americans to materially support their country? The ones quick to complain about nebulous, unspecified waste and the need for cutting taxes for the rich again and again — you know, the personal responsibility people — can't seem to solve the problem of how we maintain what we've built and use every day. Or to see to our other responsibilities, like health care or education of the nation's children. But nearly 900 overseas military bases? No problemo. Because war? War is like jello. There's always room for jello.

The comedy duo Frangela do a bit they begin with, "There was a time in this country...." Yes, there was. It was the early 1960s:

We left from Chicago driving Route 66. (The Nelson Riddle theme to the TV show is still the hippest ever.) The trip took a couple of days. The highway was still two lanes as you went further west. That was already changing.

Beside Route 66 and elsewhere, Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System – the vast system of roads most of us take for granted – was taking shape from border to border and from coast to coast. It was a national project worthy of a great nation. The country was on the move.

Astronaut Alan Shepard was a national hero. Our parents wanted us to go to college. Our president wanted us to go. Our country wanted us to go. Getting an education was not just a key to a future better than our parents'. It was a patriotic duty. Not just something you could do for you, but what you could do for your country.

America was going to the moon by the end of the decade. We needed scientists and engineers and new technologies. Between the G.I. Bill and government-backed student loans, America was making it more affordable than ever to get an education. It was good for you. It was good for your community. It was good for all of U.S.

Even as corporate profits skyrocket, we explain away our inability to accomplish anything like that today by telling ourselves we cannot afford it and that we have lost faith in government. Or have we just lost faith in ourselves?

A 527 some friends and I used to have ran a series of radio ads that spoke to that issue. Like this one:

VO: You wouldn’t let the lawn go to seed or leave broken windows broken. You worked hard for your home. And the longer you let things go, the more it takes to set them right. With collapsing bridges, overtaxed power girds and decaying infrastructure, isn’t it time we felt the same way about the home ... we call our country?

VO: Take ownership in America. Register. Vote. Volunteer. A message from BlueCentury.org.