The landscape is bleak. We see a progression of crumbling bridges, collapsing dams, breached levees, decaying roads and desiccated farmlands. Stagnant water, wastewater, solid waste, hazardous waste. Dissolve to: abandoned homes, withering parks, collapsing schools, broken rails.
Sound like a depressing movie you don’t want to see? Neither do I. It’s no movie, it’s America. It isn’t over in two hours and you can’t walk out on it.
We have been looking at America’s vexing infrastructure—from afar and for far too long—and missing the blighted forest for the illusory trees. Ready for your close-up, America? We need a new New Deal. Yes, New Deal—the dirty words Republicans would be titillated to hear and Democrats are afraid to say even under their breath.
Accepting the Democratic nomination for the presidency (July 2, 1932), Franklin Delano Roosevelt mentioned a New Deal for the American people for the first time. While depression-struck Americans in soup lines blamed their suffering on an alphabet soup of villains they identified as the three Bs—brokers, bankers, and businessmen, FDR set his sights on what he defined as the three Rs—relief, recovery and reform, the latter to alter and improve the financial system to preclude another economic collapse. He took to the radio to talk to the American people—to allay their fears, to rebuild their confidence, to explain what went wrong and how it might be corrected. Heartened and assured by the president’s “fireside chats” as if he were speaking individually to every man, woman and child, a needy nation eagerly waited for and welcomed them. Worth noting: the New Deal and its programs, as The Library of Congress “Learning Page” points out, “set a precedent for the federal government to play a key role in the economic and social affairs of the nation.”
In his State of the Union speech just two weeks ago, President Obama cited “the times that tested the courage of our convictions…” Like the Great Depression. He continued, “And despite all our divisions and disagreements, our hesitations and our fears, America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, as one people. Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history's call.” He subsequently added, “…it's time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength. And tonight, tonight I'd like to talk about how together we can deliver on that promise. It begins with our economy.” The president pledged to make “a million jobs the overwhelming priority for the coming year.”
We are privileged, I would even say blessed, to have an educated, articulate man for president. So what does the opposition hear? House Republican leader John Boehner called the president’s goals “job-killing policies.” I quote Bertrand Russell: “A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.”
So, only yesterday, as the New York Times reported, President Obama and Republican leaders seemed to agree the two sides “might be able to work together [on] jobs creation.” But before you could say “brain-dead,” those “leaders” voted to block the president’s choice for the National Labor Relations Board. Labor, as in work! The same people who think Democratic is a three-syllable word ending with a “t” must think jobs and labor are antonyms, not synonyms.
Who could object to creating jobs, reducing unemployment and rebuilding America? We know who.
Maybe the solution to the Republicans' inability to grasp a thought as vital as this one is to write “jobs” on the palms of their hands.