It was just over two weeks ago that Minnesota experienced what many politicians here declared was one of the greatest tragedies the State had ever seen—the collapse of the I-35W bridge in the heart of Minneapolis.
It was only a few days after that the finger pointing and political blame game started in earnest—along with some rather ill-considered partisan political attacks on the current Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, blaming him for the collapse and allowing the state’s infrastructure to deteriorate under his watch. The hyperbole started early, and it has yet to subside.
The attacks were nasty, but not based in facts. Over the last decade Minnesota’s budget for road construction has increased by slightly over 100%, and much of the Federal money coming to Minnesota has been diverted to massively expensive and underutilized transit projects and projects in the sparsely populated Northeast corner of the State, represented by Congressman Jim Oberstar, now chair and formerly ranking member of the House committee responsible for transportation funding.
In some ways, a more disturbing fact has come to light in the debate over the bridge collapse—and one that has implications far beyond partisan and parochial Minnesota politics.
There is a growing idea that Government can shield us from all ills, regardless of their source, as long as enough resources are poured into bureaucracies dedicated to shielding us from the contingencies of daily life. If we only pay enough in taxes, life can be safe.
Reality proves this thesis as not just wrong, but pernicious.
Two weeks after the bridge collapse here in Minnesota, another, much larger-scale tragedy has struck a wide swath of Minnesota. A series of flash floods tore through the State as up to 18 inches of rain was dumped on drought-parched soil baked by a mostly rainless summer. The collapse of the bridge was dramatic and telegenic, but the more common ravages of nature put the bridge collapse into a different perspective.
The scale of the current natural disaster is huge. Roads were washed away, hundreds or perhaps thousands of people are currently left homeless by the storms, and the Governor toured the area with local officials and met with local residents to help them cope with the disaster . President Bush will be here on a visit soon to a newly ravaged State, and will make another statement about how the Federal government will help rebuild the flooded areas.
On the one hand, it’s a blessing that here in America we can marshal the resources of an entire nation to help each other rebuild after such tragedies, but on the other, there is something vaguely disturbing about the whole political spectacle unfolding.
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