Please Stop Saying Ridiculous Things

Please Stop Saying Ridiculous Things

Matt HealeyThursday,21 May 2015

I understand that politicians are trained to stay on message. Even if that involves bending or outright breaking the facts. I get it. What I have a problem with is when staying on message goes to the point of being ridiculous. The most recent example of this was John Boehner’s response to the Amtrak derailment in Philly.

Before we get to the comment, let’s review some facts. The US spent 0.1% of GDP on rail systems in 2013. That is 1/4th of what the UK spends and 1/6th of what Australia and France spend. Per capita the US spends approximately $35 per person per year on rail infrastructure while Japan spends $100 per person per year. So the US lags in rail spending compared to the rest of the world and you can see it in their safety record and the overall quality of US infrastructure compared to the rest of the world. Anyone who has traveled to other developed countries can see the vast gulf between the quality of foreign infrastructure and US infrastructure.

Given this backdrop, Boehner dismissed a question about infrastructure spending and funding as “stupid.” WHAT THE FUCK! Really? He then went on to say that while spending for Amtrak has been cut, spending on safety systems has not. So let me get this straight, the funding is being cut for things like maintenance, system upgrade, and staffing, but that will have no effect on overall system safety? That is insane. An aging, unmaintained system will not as safe or as efficient as a well maintained and ungraded system. Regardless of how well the designated safety systems are. Think about this – which would you rather drive: a 20 year old car that has not been maintained, but has good airbags, or a 5 year old car that has been impeccably maintained?

The thing is, I understand why Boehner doesn’t want to invest in the trains. Trains generally serve cities. Whether that is commuter rail like the MBTA in Boston, or intercity rail like Amtrak and the “busy northeast corridor.” Cities generally vote for Democrats, so there is no reason for Boehner to support any spending on rail; after all, the only people he cares about tend not to live in cities. Further, his supporters in cities don’t really take the train. How many 1%ers do you see on the trains in Boston or New York? Not many. So there is no advantage for him to support spending on mass transit. What bothers me is insanity of the statement. I would be less irritated if he has simply said “I know we are underspending on rail, but there are more pressing infrastructure needs, like roads and bridges.” At least that would be more honest.

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