There wasn’t much pushback against Covid relief—it was big and sloppy but we’re in a pandemic, let it go. Nobody will mind infrastructure either. We’ve been talking about our falling bridges, corroded tunnels and general civic ugliness for 25 years. If this bill actually turns out to be about building roads and tunnels and railways and undergirding bridges, people will like it. I will like it. If people can see it happening—if on the two or three days a week they commute into the city, big crews of human beings in safety vests and hardhats are out there building things—they’ll like it a lot.
Some part of my mind thinks it will be received as the first gesture of national self-respect in a long time, a visual counter to wokeness and critical race theory. We may hate our history, our ugly beginnings and our hypocrisy but apparently we still have enough confidence to build a soaring bridge we can use, and to make the highways look better. As if we still have some self-regard. But if the whole scheme begins to look like some dumb boondoggle featuring photo-ops with Democratic donors who own companies that make solar panels, people won’t like it.
Related to that, a question: About 15 years ago politicians began promising big infrastructure bills, and they’d say it’s all shovel-ready; give us the money and we’re good to go. Nothing happened. President Obama was big on infrastructure and included funding in the 2009 stimulus bill. Yet little came of it. In 2010 Mr. Obama admitted “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” It got all tied up in permits, red tape, public hearings, environmental challenges. I always wondered if Mr. Obama just failed to get environmental groups to bow to his will. Are we shovel-ready now? How did that happen? Will it all work this time?