Point of View Columns

Trial and Error American Style

Two tragedies during the past few days point out the misguided direction in which public policy discourse in this country is heading. Last Friday there was a two train collision in Connecticut that resulted in at least 70 injuries and the snarling of road and rail traffic in the region. Just yesterday a huge tornado tore through the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa leaving at least 24 people dead an incalculable destruction in its wake. What do these tragedies have to do with public policy discourse? A lot.

While the reports are not conclusive, it appears that the Connecticut train disaster can be attributed to a broken rail. That would of course relate to issues of the maintenance and repair of the rail infrastructure and by extension the maintenance and repair of the entire infrastructure of this country.

The main elements of rail system in the Northeast corridor of the United States were essentially built over 150 years ago – before and during the Civil war. The key rail systems in Europe and Japan were all built after World War II and now feature high speed trains that is only the stuff of dreams in the United States. China’s rail system is so advanced that American engineers would do well to go there to learn about what they are never going to be able to build in today’s political climate.

That is because in today’s political climate the emphasis is being placed on budgetary austerity rather than on government playing its most important role – establishing and maintaining a society in which people can pursue opportunities to fulfill their lives. The natural role of government is to maintain national security, civil order, salutary health conditions, education and………a viable and reliable infrastructure.

Every infrastructure proposal that President Obama has made during his five years in office has been met with steadfast and unyielding opposition by the Teapublican wing of the Congress even as the infrastructure of this country frays, breaks and crumbles before our very eyes. And, as a result, the governmental response at the local, state and federal levels has been a makeshift patchwork of emergency repairs. And somehow the Teapublicans will try to make us believe that the estimated $33 trillion dollar infrastructure deficit in this country is not true – just like global warming.

The tornado tragedy in the Midwest is even more appalling. Every state that has been impacted by the recent tornado – Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa – voted for a presidential candidate (Mitt Romney) who stated that the federal government should not play a role in disaster relief. Yet, as the sad victims of this latest disaster sort through the rubble of their broken dreams and shattered hopes every single elected official in those states is welcoming with open arms the federal assistance that is already on its way.

The congressional delegations from these states are overwhelmingly Teapublicans who have stood proudly in support of a sequestration process that is slowly strangling the same federal government from which they now rightfully expect support and assistance. These same intransigent Teapublicans who proudly proclaim the need to shrink the size of government and cite government as “the enemy” now understand the importance of a strong central government with the resources necessary to help the citizens that it serves.

The forces of nature are stronger than any one community, city or state. Today it is tornadoes in the Midwest. Tomorrow it could be floods in Pennsylvania, forest fires in Oregon or drought in Texas. Hurricanes, blizzards and oil spills threaten our daily lives and it only makes sense that there are national resources available to address those challenges.

The notion of a small, caretaker government works in the utopia where there is no common hardship or shared tragedy. On the Planet Earth there is plenty of hardship and tragedy and it is the sense of community and common cause that saves us all.

We can be sure that after accepting all of the federal aid that will be forthcoming the Teapublican governors and members of Congress will experience magical amnesia and go back to strangling the federal government thereby endangering every American man, woman and child.

And that is yet another tragedy.