Political Animal


January 03, 2012 10:15 AM GOPers bite their tongues on rail, infrastructure

By Steve Benen

The NYT has a good piece today on the extent to which Republicans used to support high-speed rail, and the fact that GOP presidential hopefuls like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry used to be some of the policy’s biggest champions.

“If you want to be the most competitive country in the world in 2040 or 2050, you have to think large,” Mr. Gingrich said in 2009 at a videotaped forum sponsored by the National Governors Association and Building America’s Future, an infrastructure advocacy group. Mr. Gingrich’s large thought was for America to build high-speed magnetic levitation trains, as China has.

“Let’s go ahead and be really bold, and go head to head with the Chinese in developing and implementing maglev trains that move at 280, 300, 320 miles an hour,” Mr. Gingrich said in his speech, which Streetsblog.org, a transportation Web site, wrote about recently. “And you suddenly change all sorts of equations about how this country operates.”

Before the politics of rail was scrambled in recent years, Republican support for high-speed rail was not unusual. As recently as 2004, the Republican Party platform stated that “Republicans support, where economically viable, the development of a high-speed passenger railroad system as an instrument of economic development and enhanced mobility.”

All of this, of course, makes perfect sense. HSR development would create jobs, improve the nation’s energy policy, improve innovation, relieve traffic congestion, and even help the environment. There’s no reason this has to be a partisan issue, and for many years, it wasn’t.

Then President Obama said he agreed with Republicans on this — at which point Republicans decided high-speed rail was a communist plot that must be fought at all costs. Indeed, my favorite sentence in the Times article was this one: “Spokesmen for Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry did not respond to e-mails seeking comment about their views on rail.”

After having touted the policy, these guys are no longer even willing to mention the fact that they agree — or at least used to agree — with Democrats on this policy.

And as it turns out, it’s not just rail. Politico reported that the Republican presidential field is completely unwilling to talk about transportation and the nation’s infrastructure needs. Politico “reached out to all seven of the Republican 2012 campaigns; none chose to flesh out infrastructure positions.”

The problem, apparently, is that the issue involves public investments, and Republican voters don’t like public investments, no matter how many jobs this would create, or how much this would strengthen the country.

Ideally, this is what a presidential nominating contest is for: candidates identify areas of public need and discuss what they’d do to address those needs. But the Republican process in 2012 has nothing to do with problem-solving or public policy; it’s about proving fealty to an ideology.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • walt on January 03, 2012 10:26 AM:

    I think the problem the right has with rail transcends their normal demonization of public investment. Rail serves and supports urbanism. It permits density, gets people out of their cars, and by its inexorable logic, creates liberals. Highways, by contrast, serve sprawl and the centripetal forces that isolate people from one another. It's an ideal vector of the GOP's I've Got Mine politics that seeks to privatize society's goods.

    The political war we're fighting is between two visions, one urban and the other suburban/rural. One favors Democrats, the other Republicans. That's why rail must be defeated. It helps the wrong side.

  • MattF on January 03, 2012 10:27 AM:

    That tricky man, Obama-- he supports various moderate Republican policies, thereby forcing all real Republicans to condemn moderate Republican policies.

  • c u n d gulag on January 03, 2012 10:28 AM:

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again - we are a nation of 3 groups:
    1. Rural people - who usually vote Republican, but will take any handouts the government gives them, while at the same time bitch about big government.

    2. Urban people - who usually vote Democratic, and will take any handout the government gives them, and thank them for it.

    3. Suburbanites - Who will swing either way, like an "idiot wind," and want government money, but don't want to pay the taxes that are needed to give them GOOD government.

    And the GOP better watch its ass on this one.
    Because there are few groups who want HSR than suburbanites.
    But, naturally, they don't want to pay for HSR, so the Republicans at least have that correct.

    And newsflash, Conservatives - even Ayn Rand wrote about choo-choo trains!

    Didn't you read her long, boring, and idiotic books?

    Or, did you just flip through looking for the violent sex scenes?

  • Danp on January 03, 2012 10:44 AM:

    itís about proving fealty to an ideology.

    It's about taking Obama down. The ideology is as phony as the one used by Ayn Rand's antagonists. It's just a rhetorical justification for keeping taxes for the wealthy low and regulations that restrict profits at a minimum.

  • T2 on January 03, 2012 10:46 AM:

    people who have been to Europe and seen first hand how great HSR really is are a small portion of the total public. Too bad. If more people knew how great it would be to go from Houston to Chicago at 175 mph, or Atlanta to Dallas, or Seattle to San Francisco in a few hours....it would be an easy sell. But until Big Oil figures out how to make a bundle on it, it's not going to happen. Planes use lots more fuel.

  • W.R. German on January 03, 2012 10:51 AM:

    c u n d gulag forgot one group--the Wealthiest One Percent, who want to pay no taxes, whine like piglets for government bailout money when they go bust and think that bankrupting the middle class is perfectly OK because "they lack skin in the game".

    Oh, and there is another class gulag forgot--the Washington Pundit Class. You know, people like Bill Maher, Michael Moore and Katherina van der Heuvel, who all said in 2000 that there was no difference between Bush and Gore, so they all supported Nader. Look where that got us... and now van der Heuvel supports someone even worse, Ron Paul.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 03, 2012 10:51 AM:

    We know all about that in Florida where KOCHsucking douchebag felon Rick Scot turned down 24 billion of high speed rail money because of ideology. We had many many rich republican contractors salivating at the prospect and he still turned it down. You see ol Rick never has to get on an expressway except with a police escort. Flys the state plane everywhere else.

  • chi res on January 03, 2012 10:52 AM:

    The political war we're fighting is between two visions, one urban and the other suburban/rural.

    The political war we're fighting is between two visions, one old and the other young.

    The political war we're fighting is between two visions, one female and the other male.

    The political war we're fighting is between two visions, one religious and the other secular.

    Hey, this is fun! Try it at home. Almost anything will fit. And each is just as generalized and over-simplified as the next!

  • Redshift on January 03, 2012 10:53 AM:

    The problem, apparently, is that the issue involves public investments, and Republican voters donít like public investments

    I think it would be more accurate to say that the Republican base doesn't like public investments. Polls have shown that a large portion of Republicans favor them, just not the ones who vote in primaries.

    For the rest, it's an issue that cuts like a lot of wedge issues -- a minority on the wingnut side for whom this is a voting issue, and a majority who favor the other side but not strongly enough for their vote to be swayed by it.

    (Captcha "nfooking solar". That, too.)

  • Gandalf on January 03, 2012 10:57 AM:

    These people are obviously shallow and insane. They basicall disagree with everything if Obama is for it. Now I know that the memory of your average american seems to extend only hours into the past but the democrats need to constantly point these things out and challenge the republicans to prove them wrong. It's called strategy and tactics words that are foreign to democratic politicos.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 03, 2012 10:58 AM:

    Hear, hear, Walt!!!

    When I initially moved to Baltimore and started working in DC, I was a helluva I-95 road warrior... that is until I discovered MARC commuter train service--and it's two station stops near my house, one within 7 minutes, the other 15. Honestly, I don't know how people get on doing long-distance car commuting anymore. Train service definitely makes one more liberal, especially since one doesn't experience acute episodes road rage twice a day. That's it, though--if everyone has road rage, they'll vote Republican.

    (Marc ain't high speed, but I'd sure love it if it were.)

  • Redshift on January 03, 2012 10:58 AM:

    Oh, and there is another class gulag forgot--the Washington Pundit Class. You know, people like Bill Maher, Michael Moore and Katherina van der Heuvel

    That's the selection of people you call "Washington Pundits"? Are you on crack? Lump them together if you like, but claiming they're the "Washington Pundit Class" is just bizarre.

  • DAY on January 03, 2012 11:10 AM:

    "t's about taking Obama down."- Danp

    Exactly. And fresh fruit and vegetables sap our precious bodily fluids and lead to socialist thought. I offer FLOTUS as evidence. . .

  • c u n d gulag on January 03, 2012 11:17 AM:

    W.R. German,
    I was talking about "people," and not the creatures you mentioned. :-)

  • kevo on January 03, 2012 11:21 AM:

    Just ask your Republican friends and loved ones what they and the Republican presidential candidates are for, and you'll get robotic talking points about how corrupt government must be stopped from spending us into the poor house, how we must take back America, and how much of a nightmare four more years of President Obama would be.

    What you will hear rarely if ever is a response that brings up supply-side economics, fair tax policy, the Bush deficit years, or the economic meltdown of 2008. Not good topics for our friends on the Right!

    So, here we are, day three of 2012, and we know the Republicans can't say what they're for regarding putting Americans back to work, how they'd balance the need for revenue and tax fairness, how they'd repeal and then replace the ACA, or any of the other myriad issues facing our nation during this election year, including fixing those damn pot holes that damage our privately owned vehicles!

    No, it is very plain to see the Republicans stand united in their fierce opposition to President Obama, issues be damned, and they will need to be stopped at the ballot box if we are to move sanely into the future!

    Just say no to Republicans in the 2012 election! -Kevo

  • bcinaz on January 03, 2012 11:55 AM:

    You can bet Romney will switch his stance on infrastructure for the general election, since what, 75 to 80 percent of everybody believes the US should be investing in public spending, however, he'll probably be for it in California and totally against it in Kansas.