Ed Driscoll

Bridge Over Troubled Bobos

Back in October, we gave the president one cheer for having the nerve to deliver his then-latest malaise speech in the heart of the malaise itself — San Francisco, an area permanently trapped in 1970 at the intersection of Haight-Ashbury, Stonewall, Altamont and Earth Day.

Obama told the softest denizens of what Michael Barone once dubbed “Soft America” that “we” have lost our ambition:

“We have lost our ambition, our imagination, and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge,” President Obama said at a fundraiser in San Francisco on Tuesday.

As I wrote at the time:

To be fair, let’s give Obama points for actually saying this in San Francisco, as it does take a certain amount of chutzpah to deliver your malaise speech in a city where they obviously have more important things to do than build and innovate. Though let’s take those points away; Obama is calling his leftwing base in San Francisco too soft; but also considers his fellow Democrats in Pennsylvania to be too bitter, religious, and heavily armed –  which “everybody knows is true,” the future president would subsequently add in his non-apology apology. (Victor Davis recently assembled “a tiny sampling” of those Americans “who have been on the receiving end of the president’s disdain.”)

While today’s self-described ‘progressives’ aren’t very good at building new things (just ask the president), they’ve become quite adept at destroying the monuments that the first generation of progressives built near the start of the 20th century:

First Elwha and Glines Canyon, and now Condit: The three largest dam removals ever in the country will be under way in Washington today, when contractors detonate 800 pounds of dynamite and blast the White Salmon River free.

“You hate to see it go; it’s good, carbon-free energy,” said Tom Hickey, senior engineer for hydro resources for PacifiCorp. But Condit Dam is only one of 47 projects in the company’s hydro fleet, Hickey said, and it has other sources of power from wind to coal.

Condit’s time simply had come.

However, when it comes to actually repairing things, as opposed to knocking them down, either rhetorically or literally, well, that apparently needs to be outsourced these days:

As a tourist, you might refer to the Bay Bridge as a spectacular sight; as a local, you will probably call it congested.

But embarrassing? Now that’s one adjective that doesn’t come to mind when you stare at one of the city’s prized landmarks.

However, a group of American manufacturers are calling it an embarrassment. The Alliance for American Manufacturing launched a new campaign, dubbed “Should Be Made in America,” pointing out all the ways in which the U.S. government is outsourcing infrastructure jobs that could go to the American people. The group’s first stop: San Francisco Bay Bridge.

“Our campaign is designed to spark changes in federal, state, and local procurement policies,” said Scott Paul, AAM’s executive director. “The problems with the Bay Bridge project could have been avoided if California officials had made it in America. Instead, the project is costing American jobs, undermining California’s environmental goals, and facing numerous delays.”

The group is not at all happy that Chinese steel is being used to repair the bridge, and has placed billboards near the bridge which might not play very well with either the area’s numerous Asian immigrants, nor the nation that seems to swooping up much of America’s massive amount of debt:

The billboards feature a bright red Chinese flag and say, “The Bay Bridge 100 percent foreign steel” and include the alliance’s website.

Paul said the alliance’s “Should Be Made in America” campaign is aimed at sparking changes in federal, state, and local procurement policies.

He said the U.S. needs to repair trillions of dollars in crumbling infrastructure over the next decade, including nearly $500 billion worth in California alone, and the campaign is arguing that the most effective boost to the U.S. economy would be to ensure that U.S. firms are given the work whenever permissible under existing trade obligations.

Paul said 20 U.S. states are currently considering, or have recently passed, legislation to provide preferences for American steel and manufactured goods in state-level procurement.

John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which helped coordinate funding for the Bay Bridge work, said the billboards have misleading information.

He said 76 percent of the steel used for the new eastern span was fabricated in the U.S.

Goodwin said the only portion using steel from China is the self-anchored suspension span, which is 2,047 feet long.

Goodwin said the main contractors for the eastern span are two American companies, Fluor, which is based in Texas, and American Bridge, which is based in Pennsylvania.

Still though, as a visual metaphor in an area whose leftwing politics have created a paralyzing stasis, it’s fun to watch. Especially when it’s attacking a nation that both Obama and Thomas Friedman (whose articles seem to anticipate much of Obama’s rhetoric) have praised as someone we should be both emulating and getting deeper into bed with.

As Steven Hayward of Power Line has written, Jimmy Carter’s original malaise speech was aimed at his fellow liberals’ “crisis of confidence,” just as Obama’s successor speech last year was delivered to his fellow bobos in arguably the bluest of blue state regions. Nowadays, as John Hawkins writes, sitting in at Hot Air, Obama’s current riff is that “you’re on your own” economics “is a sign of madness:”

According to the worst President in American history, “you’re on your own” economics, which apparently extended from the founding of the country until the day Barack Obama took office, didn’t work. Sure, it produced the most technologically advanced nation on the planet, the world’s largest economy, and made us into a super power, but that’s “madness” compared to Obamanomics, which cost us our AAA credit rating, has produced the longest streak of above 8% unemployment since the Great Depression, and is on track to produce 13 trillion dollars of debt over the next 10 years.

Ironically, “you’re on your own economics” once served the Bay Area pretty well:

President Obama lamented recently that Americans have “lost our ambition, our — our imagination, and — and — our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge.” There are at least two facts that must be pointed out here. First, the Golden Gate Bridge was built by private enterprise, not government. If anything, government was the biggest obstacle to the bridge, thanks to opposition from the Department of Defense and the mistaken opinion of a San Francisco city engineer that the ground under the bay to be spanned would never support such a structure. It’s also worth noting here that Bank of America founder and president A.P. Giannini, a member of the much-maligned one percent, stepped forward at a critical moment after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 to provide critically needed private financing to complete the project. The bridge was finished in 1937, 16 years after architect Joseph Strauss first began the project. He completed the project $1.7 million under its total budget of $35 million.

Second, Obama is almost certainly correct in doubting that grand projects like the Golden Gate Bridge could be done today, but not for the reasons he would want to acknowledge. For proof, we need look no further than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada first proposed in 2008. The company wants to spend $7 billion in private capital to build the pipeline. It would transport crude oil produced in Canada’s Alberta tar sands region to refineries in Texas. Not only would U.S. dependence on OPEC nations for oil be significantly reduced, building the pipeline would also, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, create as many as 435,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2035.

It’s worked elsewhere as well:

Hoover Dam has become something of a liberal icon these days. President Obama points to it as an example of the sort of federally funded projects that once “unleashed all the potential in this country” — potential that his next round of stimulus will unleash again. MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow has pointed to the 726-foot-high, 660-foot-wide dam as proof that some projects are just too big for private enterprise. “You can’t be the guy that built this,” she tells the TV screen. Only government can, is the implication.

Well, that would come as a surprise to the guy who did build it – or, rather, the guys who did, with their private companies. In the five-year process they discovered, even back then, that the biggest obstacle they faced in Black Canyon wasn’t nature or the Great Depression, but New Deal Washington.

Couldn’t we a little more “on our own?” It seems to work pretty darn well, whenever it’s tried — right up until the moment when we’re not on our own.