As the reality of Obama-as-president gradually sinks in, I’ve had a few whoa moments this weekend.
The first was his planned overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure, creating 2.5M jobs, as Mike Shear writes about in today’s Post. Infrastructure isn’t real exciting stuff, but the problem we have is that much of our nation’s infrastructure is aging out. The post-war boom in construction (Eisenhower’s creation of the federal interstate system is the prime examples) was great, but it’s all aging out at once. Remember when the power went out in the northeast for a few days back in 2003? It’s fine to say that the market should take care of that, but the reality is the power grid is, to use the business catchphrase of the moment, too big to fail. (Worse still, our infrastructure isn’t built to handle decentralized power generation, which will come to hobble us if we don’t fix that.) Remember the Minnesota bridge collapse last year? It was a forty-year old bridge, spanning the Mississippi, that was simply holding more weight than it could bear. As we all learned in the weeks afterwards, there are thousands of bridges across the nation that are fast aging out, with no comprehensive plan to replace them. President Bush’s assistant secretary of the treasury (2005-7) Emil Henry editorializes in tomorrow’s Post in favor of this infrastructure overhaul, writing that “like the maintenance of a strong military—investment that protects prosperity—investment in key infrastructure is consistent with Reagan principles.”
The second moment was Obama’s statement today that the economy is going to get worse. That’s certainly what we’re hearing from economists, yet the Bush White House refused to admit that we were in a recession until just a few days ago. We’ve become accustomed to being led by a man who keeps his head firmly in the sand on such matters. Years from now, it will surely seem bizarre to praise a president for stating the obvious, but that’s just a sign of how far we’ve fallen.
And the third whoa moment was Obama’s selection of General Eric Shinseki to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki famously recommended—publicly—”several hundred thousand soldiers” for the planned invasion of Iraq, leading to public disagreement from Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, who called it “way off the mark.” (You’ll recall that they wanted the War in Iraq to be an experiment in getting the job done with far less troops that are traditionally used.) Shinseki was shown the door, retiring a few months after the public dispute. The general spoke to my Sorensen Institute class at our graduation, in 2005. The Post obtained a private letter that Shinseki wrote to Rumsfeld just before Shinseki resigned, in which he wrote:
People are central to everything we do in the Army. Institutions don’t transform, people do. Platforms and organizations don’t defend the nation, people do. . . . Without people in the equation, readiness and transformation are little more than academic exercises.
That sounds to me like the perfect guy to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There are going to be a lot of these moments in the months ahead, between now and when I realize it’s going to be OK now. I look forward to them.