Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Read the Damn Transcript

Republicans are up in arms about something or other that the President said, so they're taking to the internet to complain about it. They want to tell you what happened at a Presidential town hall at the NOVA community college. We could go ahead and debunk some of the more ridiculous blogagandist claims and manufactured outrage, but here's an idea: read the damn transcript.

In any debate, it's a shortcut to jump to the first response to see what the debate will be about. But if you actually want to know what the President said, that shortcut isn't useful. So save yourself the headache of figuring out what paid conservative bloggers are harping about and read the transcript. Maybe there's something objectionable in there, or maybe there isn't. That's really your judgment call, and not Ed Morrissey's. As an example of why it's important to actually go to the original speech, let's turn to the Hot Air infrastructure flair up:

Reading the tea leaves of right wing disgust, I think the blogagandists are responding to this section of the President's speech:
[Explanation of the nature of shared sacrifice regarding taxes]

Remember when that bridge in Minnesota collapsed with all those people on it? And there was a big hue and cry, “How can this happen in America?” Well, the National Society of Engineers — they looked around and they give us a D when it comes to infrastructure.

[Conclusion: Paying taxes might be worth it to ensure old bridges don't collapse before being replaced]

This is the section that Ed Morissey is pretending to be distressed by. I'm not sure exactly what he finds objectionable, however. Perhaps he's disappointed that the free market didn't magically provide its invisible hand to repair, replace, or retrofit the Interstate 35 W bridge across the Mississippi. Perhaps he's
But being from Minneapolis, the implication that the St. Anthony Falls bridge collapse in August 2007 had to do with infrastructure spending isn’t just ignorant of basic civics, it’s downright false and offensive (via Greg Hengler)
Perhaps he's right. Anyone who has ever been "from Minneapolis" knows that the St. Anthony Falls bridge always collapses in August 2007. This is a fact that is taught in every middle school civics class in Minnesota, right after the section where they study Minnesota's state bird, flower, and motto. Nothing could have been done to prevent the bridge from failing suddenly in the middle of the day.

I have no idea what Morissey is getting at here, but it doesn't help that he simply mischaracterizes what the President is saying:
The bridge was designed and built in an era when engineers thought that redundant systems were both unnecessary and inefficient. Gusset plates installed at the time of the bridge’s building were too thin, and without any redundancy to account for a major failure on a single point, it was a tragedy waiting to happen from day 1. It had nothing to do with any lack of maintenance, and in fact collapsed because of scheduled maintenance to the deck that inadvertently destabilized it to the point of collapse.
Of course, President Obama is not talking about maintenance. He's talking about spending money on infrastructure projects that would replace faulty bridges, improving the American infrastructure. The National Society of Engineers scores American infrastructure at a D currently. Simply cramming wads of cash between the girders of the bridge might not have helped the situation, but Ed Morissey cannot honestly believe that when considering whether to replace or retrofit a failing bridge, that available resources don't come into the equation.

Granted, the bridge's design was fatally flawed; money should have been available to replace it, and there should have been an engineer to evaluate and inspect it. Of course, engineers don't work for free. Maybe the market will spontaneously allocate resources for that engineer to make that a workable decision. In the meantime, and since the market wasn't sufficient to prevent the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge, let's organize such safety inspections. Maybe we could even hire a professional staff to figure some of this stuff out for us non-experts. Then maybe we could pay them by collecting a small portion of our own wages, which depend on a functional infrastructure in the first place. But to keep the conservatives happy, let's just not call it a 'government.'

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