Monday, October 27, 2008

On (Current) Politics and Roadwork

"Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks -- no form of government can render us secure. To suppose liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them."
-James Madison

In other words, we get the government we deserve.

And that's a good starting point in examining this current election. For nearly two years, we have heard appraisals from candidates and media alike regarding the current state of this Union. And in one week, the people will "speak" with their decisive vote on the question: Who is best to lead our nation for the next 4 years?

So where to begin? With an issue? In assessing a candidate's character? This is your focal point to choose. For myself, I begin with a belief- and that is my devotion to liberty. Liberty is a word so often spoken that its meaning loses its definition, much like "love" or "happiness." But unlike other words, liberty is a concrete idea. Liberty is the condition where one acts of his or her own free will. From liberty comes many basic elements we often take for granted- the freedom of speech, to possess property and socio-economic rights. Grandiose and simplistic as that may sound, you need not look farther than your own daily routine to understand its effect on your life.

My daily reminder comes every time I drive to work. I take a highway that has been consistently under construction for the past 10-plus years. I hate the condition of this route- with concrete barriers, tight turns and a dangerous series of calamities waiting to unfold. And, not too surprisingly, there are many accidents along this highway. People lose their time, property and in some cases their lives because of this absurd situation. And I can tell you that over the course of the past 17 months (the time I've driven this route daily), nothing significant has been done to move this "construction" to a conclusion.

For kicks, I went to the New York State Department of Transportation website to get some info on this fiasco and this is what I found:

I-287 Reconstruction Project, a $150 million rehabilitation effort [Author's note: in 2004 , the DOT estimated this "phase" of construction would cost $40 million] designed to improve and upgrade 1.8 miles of the Cross Westchester Expressway from Interchange 6 (in White Plains) to Interchange 8 (in Harrison), including many of the ramps, bridges and overpasses in the area.

This project is essential to ensuring the safety and efficiency of the Cross Westchester Expressway, a vital transportation artery that carries more than 120,000 vehicles per day.

Initiated in August 2006 [Author's note: starting in 1998 it was a several mile stretch leading up to this area that was under construction, but they make it sound like this roadwork just happened recently!], the Project is expected to be completed in late 2009 or the first half of 2010, with the goal of making this busy roadway safer for travelers and less disruptive for surrounding neighborhoods.

This, coming from the same government that spent $54 million of our dollars recently to answer the question: What do we do about the aging Tappan Zee Bridge? It took the State 8 years to decide "We'll replace the bridge with a new one." What a revolutionary notion! Unfortunately, not a single blueprint was drafted, and not a square-inch of asphalt was poured out of that expense.

Are my politics based on my compounding road-rage? Partially! But seriously, I see this as another necessary idea (repairing infrastructure) being perverted into a scurrilous example of government waste. Even if this project came in at its budgeted $150 million (very doubtful), that would mean each inch of roadway would cost $1,315. In a state that complains of a $5 billion budget shortfall for 2009, I am beginning to understand why one of the wealthiest states in the entire world is cash-poor.

And that brings us to the point of this tale. I have not paid any attention to this roadwork boondoggle up until very recently. As a taxpayer and a voter, I blindly surrendered my liberty (money, time, property) to the government. The result of my (and my fellow citizens') decade-long ignorance is undeniable-- and well-deserved. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a tirade against "big government" or "tax and spend" politicians. That sort of talk is meaningless, boilerplate nonsense. What I discuss here is a simple call for us to think more about our roles as citizens, because that thought process is the beginning of how we should approach all public issues. As Madison says, our government is only as good as its citizenry.

This does not require that we march on our government to protest its failures. Instead, it should mean that we reassess our individual criteria for evaluating any candidate for public office. If each of us applies a more thoughtful and discerning set of measurements to these public servants, we will change the way we view government. And that is change from the bottom-up (not from a sign on a podium). Sure, I would love for a leader to arrive that could deliver us into a better age of prosperity and security. Unfortunately, that sort of thing doesn't happen in a vacuum. Movements are comprised of people-- leaders are just there to direct traffic.


Rickey said...

In a state that complains of a $5 billion budget shortfall for 2009...

Yeah it's jumped up just a wee bit since you typed that...

TheJackSack said...

Yeah I just heard on the radio- now its $15 billion. Is there a Marshall Plan for NY?

Sally Jo said...

Well done, Adam. I exercised my liberty and voted (early). It's a great feeling to play a constitutional role.

Glad yer back!

TheJackSack said...

Thank you very much, Sally Jo. Welcome back to you as well :)

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