The real reasons the GOP shuns trains

Friday, July 29, 2011

From a commentary by Dave Zweifel in The Capital Times:

Thanks to my now-retired colleague Ron McCrea, I’ve come across another attempt to explain this strange Republican anti-train phenomenon. An associate editor of the blog “AlterNet,” Sarah Jaffe, has five theories.

First, improved passenger rail requires big infrastructure and, hence, leaves a legacy. This legacy of a viable high-speed American rail system, of course, would belong to President Obama. And, heaven knows, Obama can’t be credited with anything.

Second, it would provide union jobs, which doesn’t fit at all with the Republican war against labor unions that is being waged so effectively by the party’s elected state governors, including our infamous Scott Walker.

Third, trains are viewed as promoting “socialism” because people riding together — as conservative columnist George Will put it —diminishes American individualism. People riding alone in their cars makes people resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make, Will has written.

Fourth is the urban vs. rural issue, which is essentially Rowen’s theory. Jaffe quotes CNN’s Steven Harrod, who says that many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.

“Urban vs. rural. People of color vs. white people. Public investment of any kind has been branded by the conservative movement as a way for the government to take away money from hardworking, independent (white) people and give handouts to freeloaders, usually seen as nonwhite people,” she writes.

And fifth, according to Jaffe, is the fear that high-speed rail will change our lifestyles — and, by golly, we like our lifestyles!

“Conservatives who fear changes brought about by high-speed rail aren’t wrong, of course, that transportation will change us,” Jaffe adds. “The shape of our cities and suburbs for the past 50 years or more has been largely because of transportation. Without cars, we’d never have had suburbs, let alone exurbs.”

If Obama succeeded in making decent passenger rail accessible to 80 percent of the U.S. in the next 25 years, it would become time to encourage urban density rather than suburban sprawl, which, in turn, would bring about a shift from cars regardless of economic class.

Right-wingers don’t like that notion at all because, in their view, that promotes environmental awareness, energy savings and other concerns normally associated with liberalism.