Being a liberal kind of guy, some in my generation often look at FDR (and even LBJ) as presidents who have helped to enact programs, policies and projects that have had a lasting impact on our culture. Think about Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, bridges, tunnels, roads, and the like and you see a social safety net and the building of a modern infrastructure. Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the dismantling of the politically liberal state has been an article of faith among the Right. Distrust in the government to do anything right has been the mantra, and in order to further that distrust, Republicans (when in power) have made it a point to staff government agencies with leaders who are pretty lousy at their jobs. Waste, fraud and abuse increase and distrust in government attempting to solve problems in our society decreases. In short, people of my age group haven’t had great things happen in their adult lifetime. For me, the moon launch happened when I was a very small child, the War on Poverty (while flawed in many ways) was a product of an age when I was alive, but barely aware of anything but my immediate surroundings. By the time I came of adult age, Reagan was president and he was pushing his belief that the free market (and not government) would solved all of our problems – while he used the power of our government to fight illegal wars in Central America and run up the debt and deficit to fight the Soviet Union.
Elected leaders are there to give priorities to policies that will steer the ship of state in a certain direction, but that can only happen when the electorate is supportive of those policies in large enough numbers that their future is tied to the success of a candidate or a political party. If your belief is to shrink government, that means your actions (and not words) will have to be played out in a way that demonstrates what exactly you believe. When people on the right want to shrink government, they are talking about entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance and the like. The logical consequence of shrinking these programs is that old age poverty will skyrocket, more elderly people will not have access to medical care, and if you’re out of a job, well that ‘s just tough because unless you saved for such a rainy day, you aren’t going to get any money from the government to help you out. You will see great inequality, poverty, and a shrinking middle class. That, to me, is the road to a Third World state, and it’s something I don’t want our society spiral downward toward.
So when I see public/private partnerships like the one pictured above, it makes me happy to see that government can, in this day and age when a vocal minority says otherwise, do something constructive. Case in point the pedestrian bridge that’s near my house. It took about 10 years of planning and two years of construction to complete. Many entities were involved (local, county, state, even federal) who were able to piece together the money to make this happen. Now, Treat Boulevard is a pretty busy thoroughfare between Walnut Creek and Concord, CA. It’s one of two main arteries between the two cities that’s not a freeway and it’s used by tons of people. At the BART station (which is called Pleasant Hill, but is located in Walnut Creek), the amount of foot, bike, car and motorcycle traffic in that hub is high — especially with the hotels, and office buildings in the immediate area. So, having a bike/pedestrian bridge that goes over Treat Boulevard and connects with the Iron Horse trail on both sides of the road is really great. Plus, with the newly constructed apartments near BART, creating enclaves where cars are not really needed fits with the master plan of the so-called new urbanism. I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about this plan back in 1997. I didn’t think you could take a sleepy part of Contra Costa County and develop it in such a way that you “build up” the housing and businesses in the area in a concentrated way. The local new urbanism model has been the Rockridge area of Oakland where the mix of residential, business and mass transit have made it a really desirable place to live. Now, I didn’t think they could replicate that in Walnut Creek, but they are on their way with this new transit village. Right now, there aren’t any businesses that have set up shop, so the dream of new urbanism in Walnut Creek hasn’t come to fruition yet. But that will (hopefully) change as the economy gets better.
Overall, though, I suppose when I look at the pedestrian bridge, I think of all the public/private effort that went into creating it and I guess I get kind of puffed up with civic pride that people of different political stripes can work together to make something that says “progressive.”