Sorry, America, We Can’t Have Better Stimulus Projects

train destroyed tbi

Want to know why we probably won’t get a second stimulus?

Because the first one was too boring.

In the five months since the stimulus was passed, it’s failed to produce awe inspiring, visionary work.

No Mount Rushmore for the patriots. No WPA for the culture mavens. No giant works of engineering for the technologists. Nothing like the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring modern technology to the impoverished.

Of course, nobody in their right mind would really expect anything more than what we got in such a short period of time, but the LA Times worries that we’ll never get any of those bold projects we were promised. 

When President Obama first outlined his stimulus plan to boost the economy, leaders across the country envisioned a burst of federal funding to build high-speed rail lines, modern classrooms and a new national electricity grid.

Latrine repair? No one mentioned that. But $500,000 has been set aside to fix the toilets at Ft. Irwin, an Army base south of Death Valley National Park, according to data from the California Recovery Task Force.

In fact, much of the stimulus money earmarked for California so far has gone toward run-of-the-mill projects such as replacing a metal guardrail with a concrete one in the city of Orange and conducting a campus-wide elevator study at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in San Francisco.

One problem is that is that too many stimulus projects had to be shovel-ready. By making that part of the stimulus deal, it closed out a number of the big projects, at least early on.

Another problem is that many of the huge projects that were possible in an era when national politics could still be dominated by patrician WASPs simply aren’t possible these days. You can’t build the Hoover Dam without angering the environmentalists. No one would even consider a project of blatantly patriotic, representational art on the scale of Mount Rushmore these days. Even if they did, the bickering over who would be represented would sap the enthusiasm for the projects. Our recent technological innovations hardly lend themselves to grand projects.

We understand the frustration. The stimulus was supposed to echo big New Deal-type projects, and give Obama a few monster public work projects that would create a lasting legacy. We’re just not that country anymore.

The lack of inspirational projects probably means that we won’t get a second stimulus. The reality of the first one was just too depressing.

Perhaps we just need to adjust ourselves to a stimulus of filling in potholes.