May 20, 2024

Bridge Too Far

The I-35 bridge hadn’t been down for long before the blame game got started.  The first such article to catch my eye was posted by Sean Mullen who said:

I would like to ask a small favor of the bloggers who are all over this story: Is there even the slightest chance that the maintenance of this bridge and the hundreds of others in the Twin Cities had or have been postponed in any way because of the drain of federal funds for a certain $400 billion infrastructure improvement project (see photo) known as the Iraq war?

Please get back to me when you have an answer.

The answer was given back quickly enough by Sean’s 3rd commenter who had the sense to check his/her facts and note that the federal funds allocated to the Federal Highway Administration have doubled since 1997.

Game, set, and match, right?  Well, no.  In the exchange that followed,  Sean accused his commenter of having an ideological bias and wondered which party deserves to be blamed for the bridge’s collapse.

To the first, Sean’s point about the hundreds of billions Bush and Co. have pissed away in the sand is an important point that every American ought to be thinking about.  But it has nothing to do with this issue. 

Pot, kettle, black.  Check.

Second, a system failure of this type is beyond the incompetence and/or intransigence of any one political party, as demonstrated by the fact that the bridge’s problems were first discovered in 1990.

One thing that Sean gets absolutely right is this:

State and local governments have been deferring maintenance on our crumbling highways, bridges and tunnels for years now because dealing with this crisis-in-waiting would, in many instances, require tax increases that would lead to the inevitable punishment from voters when the next election rolls around. Holding onto power by staying in office is the priority, after all.

This is the story that needs to be written – the systematic failure of government at all levels to maintain critical infrastructure – not childish flank attacks pandering to the anti-war crowd.

Politics is all about getting re-elected and staying on the public payroll, not about providing the services that are required and making the tough, often unpopular decisions.  But do we deserve better representation?  If we stop electing politicians because they make us feel good about this issue or that and start thinking for ourselves I think we’ll get the results we want.

Meanwhile, President Bush said:

“We in the federal government must respond, and respond robustly, to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity — that bridge — gets rebuilt as quickly as possible,” Bush said after a Cabinet meeting.

Still stung by harsh criticism of the government’s sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush talked with state and local officials in Minnesota, and the administration dispatched officials to the scene.

Great idea.  But given the ideologically-based finger-pointing that’s already happening, Bush should well to remember that doing too good of a job helping the city of Minneapolis rebuild might create political consequences of another sordid sort.  If the race-baiters who claim that the New Orleans/Katrina fiasco was caused by the government’s lack of interest in helping black Americans re-appear in the media we can expect to hear that nonsense all over again.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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