Like the bones in our bodies, it is the foundation of our health—too often taken for granted—and neglecting it has serious consequences, some of which we are now seeing.
James P. Pinkerton: Katrina's infrastructure lesson
By James P. Pinkerton -
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, August 30, 2007
Let's stipulate, up front, that there's plenty of blame to go around on Katrina.
Two years ago this week, and ever since, a Republican president, a Democratic governor and a Democratic mayor all have seemed to be competing for the prize of "most incompetent." Also, let's just say it and get it out of the way: During the hurricane, and in its aftermath, some of the people of New Orleans didn't acquit themselves very well either.
But the real lesson of Katrina is for all of us everywhere: The physical environment matters -- a lot more than we have been willing to acknowledge, or pay for.
And when I say "physical environment" I don't mean polar bears and penguins. I mean the environment right around us -- our surroundings defined by fire hydrants and roads, ports and airports, levees and walls.
Yet, for decades now, both the political left and the political right have chosen to scrimp on infrastructure.
For the left, the anti-infrastructure backlash started with the environmental movement. Once upon a time, New Deal Democrats were eager to pour concrete and build dams; it was jobs for workers and votes for the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
But starting in the '70s, the greens gained sway in the Democratic Party. Today, there's not a place in this country where eco-activists and litigators haven't blocked construction of a highway or a bridge.
For its part, the right has changed its tune, too. The Federalists of Alexander Hamilton, the Whigs of Henry Clay and the Republicans of Abraham Lincoln all were proponents of "internal improvements" -- turnpikes, canals, railroads. And even as a young Army officer, Dwight D. Eisenhower could see that America needed good roads to move troops around; it was a national-security issue. So when Ike, a Republican, became the 34th president, he spearheaded the Interstate Highway System.
But starting in the '80s, a new, more libertarian attitude took hold in the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan's main domestic focus was tax cuts and spending cuts, and infrastructure spending was easier to reduce than Social Security. To an avant-garde Reaganite, federal money for infrastructure was just pork-funding for unionized workers and entrenched political machines. The better approach? "Starve the beast" by cutting spending.