Finding the right model

Finally, instead of talking about FDR and the New Deal, as so much of the press and even his own advisors have, Obama seems to have found the right model for his “economic recovery plan”: Eisenhower.

In his Saturday radio address, Obama says he won’t do things “the old Washington way,” but clearly he’s got one old story from Washington in clear view.

“We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s,” said the President elect.

“We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.”

Watching and listening, I wonder how many Americans know the story of how the Federal Highway System was created? Not only how it was funded and the engineering that went into it, but how the project was conceived, and what it took to build consensus around it? And consider, too, how it transformed the country and changed the American landscape, the way we live, even the way we imagine our freedom.

It’s not just about filling potholes and fixing bridges (and I can’t tell you how many times I heard the tiresome phrase “shovels in the ground” last week). If he’s true to his word and he does it right, the Obama plan could do for early 21st-century America what Eisenhowers Interstate project did for the late 20th — change the very structure of our national life, from the physical to the cultural landscape.

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