Right-Wing Candidates Attack HSR
I’ve been pretty consistent here at the California HSR Blog over the last 2+ years in saying that high speed rail is something that everyone can and should support, regardless of political affiliation. Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ray LaHood, and Florida Congressman John Mica have shown strong support for the HSR project, among others (including Republican members of the California state legislature, who unfortunately must remain nameless, at least for now).
But as we know, some right-wing Republicans instinctively react against passenger rail projects whenever they see them. Convinced that all rail projects are “boondoggles,” they’ve fought against them at every turn, whether it was calling the idea of high speed rail to Vegas a “casino train” or whether it’s John Stossel inviting Randall O’Toole and Glenn Beck to bash trains on Stossel’s Fox Business TV show.
Now we’re seeing some right-wingers ramp up their criticism of passenger rail, and of high speed rail in particular. In Wisconsin, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker has made opposition to HSR a centerpiece of his campaign. Walker put up a microsite attacking the project, NoTrain.com, with a misleading logo featuring a heavy Amtrak-style train and a video where Walker pledges to fight HSR, even returning federal stimulus money Wisconsin won.
Walker’s argument is familiar: HSR won’t pay for itself, won’t create jobs, and sucks money away from repairing roads and bridges. None of this is true, but Walker comes from a wing of the Republican Party that has become deeply hostile to investment in 21st century infrastructure. They’re betting America’s future prosperity on prolonging a failed status quo as long as they can, despite widespread evidence that relying on automobiles and oil is an economic loser for this country.
In Wisconsin, the opposition to HSR is particularly crazy – construction is set to begin later this year on HSR from Milwaukee to Madison, with over $800 million in federal stimulus funds and some state money as well. Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle already was able to get Talgo to agree to build a factory in the state in exchange for Talgo receiving orders for trainsets on the HSR project. Right-wing opponents believe that Wisconsin apparently doesn’t need jobs or federal money, and have been egging on NIMBY opponents of the project in cities along the proposed route.
In Ohio, former Republican Congressman John Kasich is running for governor and criticizing high speed rail as well, in terms similar to those of Scott Walker.
Over at the Huffington Post, Bill Scher surveys the right-wing mobilization against HSR and offers some valuable thoughts to HSR supporters:
That tension within the political middle of the electorate — between wanting bold public investment and worrying about wasteful government spending — is a perennial obstacle to progressive reform.
Fortunately, the desire to create jobs and revitalize American manufacturing is broadly shared by the electorate.
The widely reported poll by The Mellman Group on behalf the Alliance for American Manufacturing showed huge support, 86% for “invest[ing] in our infrastructure–using American made materials–to integrate new smart electrical grid technology, generate power by building wind turbines, and create a modern network of high-speed passenger railways.”
But the Mellman Group cautioned that “strong” support for “new” infrastructure — including high-speed rail — only reaches 47%, whereas strong support for “old” infrastructure such as roads and bridges hits 58%.
Conservatives are comfortable making this a false choice between “old” and “new” infrastructure. Walker’s ad argues for taking the federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail and diverting to roads and bridges.
Scher goes on to argue that we need to reject this false choice, and I fully agree. The federal stimulus, which these right-wingers opposed, was a perfect example of how government can fund “old” infrastructure and “new” infrastructure. We should definitely be repaving existing roads and replacing worn bridges while we also build a 21st century transportation infrastructure.
But right-wingers, invested as they are in a politics that sees defense of the status quo and any effort to change the status quo as some kind of massive existential threat to the American Way Of Life, believe they can score points against Democrats by mobilizing an angry, worried, and fearful electorate to oppose anything that is “new” or “different.” Concerns about funding are merely the velvet glove hiding an iron fisted defense of an oil economy whose massive costs played a central role in producing this recession.
Scher goes on to suggest one way to deal with this:
As pollster Stan Greenberg discerned from the poll he executed on behalf of Campaign for America’s Future and other progressive groups, voters are concerned about both job creation and deficit reduction, and see a connection between them.
Therefore, it is possible to make the case that public investment to create jobs and grow the economy will also help reduce the deficit. But it is also possible to spew out misleading numbers to convince a skeptical electorate that a certain public investment project will waste taxpayer money.
Here in California, voters still believe in the concept of using public money for infrastructure and public services. The stimulus is still popular here, and the Tea Party is still a small movement popular only with 25-30% of the electorate.
Scher does warn even people like us in California to not get complacent:
But if we cannot credibly portray an thriving America powered by a revitalized infrastructure, and beat back bogus arguments, to give people a reason to say “Yes,” then we risk a “No Train” conservative populist backlash that could stifle our ability to recover from the recession and compete in the 21st global economy.
Here in California, I don’t think we’re in any serious danger of this happening. The polls statewide and on the Peninsula show just over 75% support for HSR. Still, we need to be robust and persistent in our defense of the HSR project, especially as HSR opponents concerned about the impact of the project on their property seize upon any argument against HSR and spread it around the state as fast as they can.
And what of the gubernatorial candidates here in California? We’ll have more on them tomorrow.