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The Political Benefits of Building Back Boring

Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

Joe Biden is embarking on the biggest government initiative in more than a half-century, “unlike anything we have seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades go,” he says.

But when it comes to details, it sounds as boring as fixing the plumbing.

“Under the American Jobs Plan, 100% of our nation’s lead pipes and service lines will be replaced — so every child in America can turn on the faucet or fountain and drink clean water,” the president tweeted.

Can you imagine Donald Trump tweeting about repairing lead pipes?

Biden is excited about rebuilding America’s “infrastructure,” a word he uses constantly although it could be the dullest term in all of public policy.

The old unwritten rule was that if a president wants to do something really big, he has to justify it as critical to national defense or else summon the nation’s conscience.

 

Dwight Eisenhower’s National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was designed to “permit quick evacuation of target areas” in case of nuclear attack and get munitions rapidly from city to city. Of course, in subsequent years it proved indispensable to America’s economic growth.

America’s huge investment in higher education in the late 1950s was spurred by the Soviets’ Sputnik satellite. The official purpose of the National Defense Education Act, as it was named, was to “insure trained manpower of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the national defense needs of the United States.”

John F. Kennedy launched the race to the moon in 1962 so that space wouldn’t be “governed by a hostile flag of conquest.”

Two years later, Lyndon Johnson’s “unconditional war on poverty” drew on the conscience of America reeling from Kennedy’s assassination.

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