Ed Driscoll

Standing Athwart The 21st Century

Back in 2004, we quoted Radley Balko’s take on today’s left becoming just a might...conservative in their thinking:

You know, you sometimes get the feeling the day after the polio vaccine was invented, today’s left would have run editorials lamenting the good ol’ days, when we were a little more cautious about what swimming pools we jumped into, and expressing sadness that we’d now have no new stories about the afflicted overcoming their disability to inspire the rest of us.I’m not kidding. They’re that resistant to change. Every mill that shuts down is a “sign of our sad times.” No matter that the new mill will do things better, faster and cheaper than the old one. New farming techniques grow more food on less land. But dammit, if there wasn’t something romantic about the old-stye “family farm” that’s deserving of government protection. Innovation isn’t celebrated, it’s excoriated for displacing some idealized vision of the way things once were. In matters of progress and dyanmism, the left is far more conservative than the conservatives are.

In his latest op-ed, “The Politics of Can’t-Possibly-Do“, Daniel Henninger writes that you can see the left’s love of stasis most dramatically in the giant hole in the ground that remains at the corner of Church and Liberty Street:

This week the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a stunning document to explain why Ground Zero has remained nothing but a hole for some seven years.It is arguably the greatest political and bureaucratic fiasco in the history of the world. Remember the line about how if we don’t rebuild the towers “the terrorists will win”? The terrorists will be dead of old age before this project is finished.

Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward, who did the remarkably frank report at the request of a frustrated Gov. David Paterson of New York, wrote that original estimates of time and cost (now at $15 billion) “did not reflect the unprecedented challenges associated with a project . . . involving so many different public and private stakeholders.” (Arguably the system began its decline when the vocabulary changed deadly “factions” into benevolent “stakeholders.”)

Ground Zero is a perfect storm of contemporary American politics. The report cites “19 different governmental entities from every level of government each laying claim to some component of the overall project.” And, “Each entity makes daily decisions about their individual projects, but no streamlined process or authority is in place to . . . ensure that each decision is in the best interest of the overall project.” This sounds eerily like the 9/11 Commission’s assessment of our dis-coordinated national security agencies.

Besides the public players, the report notes “dozens” of family groups representing the victims, plus various community groups. Bowing to another toxic value, the agency promises to still be “inclusive,” then complains no one has the authority to decide anything.

That is because productive decision making has fallen as a public value below “being heard.” Even being heard is no longer enough. The “stakeholders” have to prevail, somehow assuming that the process – or a complex project like this – will endure endless blows. Meanwhile, construction of the wholly private, 52-story 7 World Trade Center building was done in 2006.

New York City, a chipping temple to the public sector (the roadbeds would embarrass a third-world country), will sink or swim beneath this dead weight. But as a case study of system malfunction, the Port Authority report on unbuilt Ground Zero is a warning shot to our acrimonious national politics. A can-do tradition is losing ground to can’t-possibly-do. Barack Obama’s appeal rests heavily on the belief that he’ll bring back can-do. He’s one man. The answer lies deeper, with a people who have to choose between politics that moves its system forward or a politics that just wants to have fun.

And not even that: given their rampant puritanism, do the left’s true believers really have all that much fun?