Friday, June 25, 2021

Dated nostalgia

"The Bipartisan Infrastructure Agreement is Embarrassing" (Studebaker): 

"The Democrats decided to pack the infrastructure bill with a lot of other spending. $400 billion alone was slated to go to nursing home services, a pressing need in its own right, but not one of the needs which the American Society of Civil Engineers tracks in its reports. We need to spend $2.59 trillion in the next decade on pure, traditional infrastructure. By including so much other spending in the initial bill, the Democrats made the bill appear corrupt, bloated, and untrustworthy. Republicans took advantage, framing the bill as a mystery box of liberal giveaways.

The Biden administration made this problem worse by disparaging traditional infrastructure. In March, a Washington Post story included this damning line:

Some people close to the White House said they feel that the emphasis on major physical infrastructure investments reflects a dated nostalgia for a kind of White working-class male worker.

The idea that only white men benefit from traditional infrastructure spending is absurdly bigoted. American citizens of every background are employed in industries which benefit from infrastructure spending. American citizens of every background need functioning infrastructure. When the ASCE says we need $2.59 trillion for infrastructure, they’re saying that if we don’t get that money a substantial amount of infrastructure will fall into disrepair. We cannot have a functioning country without functioning infrastructure. To frame it as a “white” or “male” concern is beyond preposterous.

What’s more, it was deeply politically stupid. By framing traditional infrastructure as suspect, the White House sent a message to blue collar voters that this package isn’t really concerned with helping them. It’s not as if the White House has a blanket policy of opposing nostalgia for the 20th century. The administration loves comparing Joe Biden to FDR, and COVID stimulus to the New Deal. But it won’t countenance nostalgia for Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway spending, because that might actually get some Republican voters excited about the bill. If the administration wants Republicans to support this bill, they should be framing infrastructure spending in a manner that is attractive to Republican voters. Biden should have been publicly comparing himself to Ike. The bill should have consisted overwhelmingly of the traditional infrastructure spending the ASCE says we need. If Biden had promised $2 trillion in straightforward infrastructure spending over the next 10 years, he would have deprived Republicans of their best argument against the bill. He would have created enormous excitement in ordinary people.

The failure to do this instead created a cloud of suspicion around the bill from the very beginning."

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