On the Fast Track to Big Government

9 05 2011

As you’ve likely noticed, big government types seem to have something of a fetish for public transportation. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s Detroit whistle stop throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at the Detroit-Chicago rail line is only the most recent reminder of this particular obsession – though it is sure to become one of its most expensive manifestations.

This particular budget buster, straight from the desk of Conductor-in-Chief Obama, provides (as he might say) a teachable moment: To a progressive, trains have much in common with any other centrally-planned government venture, from health care to public housing.

It’s clear why big-ticket projects like high-speed rail are so seductive to politicians of all stripes, from progressives like Obama to ostensibly conservative Governor Snyder: they’re pork-barrel politicking in its textbook form.

Rail provides the perfect combination of directed public spending (great for favored constituencies like big labor) and highly visible, if ultimately pointless, activity (photo ops galore!). Even better, the long-term nature of these gigantic public works virtually eliminates accountability for elected officials. Think of the Soviet Five-Year Plans: after half a decade a majority of the populace had either forgotten about the original objective or had simply stopped expecting tangible results.

Another shovel ready project?

Likewise, if and when this proposed high-speed rail network is completed – after the inevitable setbacks and budget overruns – our modern-day apparatchiks will have already moved on to the next pork-du-jour (affordable space travel for all, perhaps).

But notice the ominous trend that links high-speed rail to other progressive projects: less liberty. Publicly-funded health care has justified invasive dietary and behavioral restrictions and regulations. Unchecked expansion of the welfare state has created a multi-generational dependent class. A focus on high-speed rail as our nation’s automotive infrastructure crumbles makes freedom of movement a government-granted privilege.

Whether intentional or not, the symbolism behind LaHood’s visit to Detroit is striking. Detroit, the city that gave America the affordable automobile – and the wonderful autonomy that comes with one’s own set of wheels – is to be one of the centerpieces of the Obama Administration’s grand, progressive rail scheme. As George Will wrote in a recent Newsweek column, “the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”

Ironically, LaHood made an appearance in New York mere hours before speaking in Detroit – a feat that would be impossible by even high-speed rail. The man who has been tasked with making the trains run on time apparently can’t be expected to suffer the inconvenience of conforming to a rigid rail schedule.

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