Yesterday I read a newspaper column by Nick Coleman. Thinking some local commentary on the nearly completed (ahead of schedule!) 35W bridge would make for good reading, I was proven wrong. The article is a tangled mess of moaning and groaning and silly insinuations that somehow is supposed to pass for tough-minded journalism.
With a title like “As new bridge takes shape, let’s not forget fate of the old” the impression is obvious: there is no reason to be happy about the new bridge because we shouldn’t have needed one in the first place. Of course this non sequitur doesn’t go very far in the actual piece. Most people find it perfectly rational to be happy about the main artery of Minneapolis’ traffic infrastructure being re-opened despite the fact its closing was a glorious example of government incompetence. Getting to places faster is always better no matter how you look at it. So Coleman shifts gears to complain about how the company building the bridge is making a profit for getting it done ahead of schedule.
There is a certain trend today among journalists, perhaps influenced by the egregious profiteering of oil companies, to simplistically equate the desire to make a profit with necessary evil. “How dare they!” they say if it were somehow shocking to find out that corporations and contractors have a monetary self-interest. Maybe there would be a relevant point to be made if the company wasn’t delivering its product, but that simply is not the case. And so after running into this dead end, Coleman goes for xenophobia masked under the guise of fiscal responsibility and anti-global economics.
After pointing out the bridge builder is from Germany we are supposed to sympathize with a low-ball bidder from the hometown. The poor tax-payers supposedly got a raw deal by not getting the cheapest price for a new bridge, never mind the fact the cheapest price usually gets you the cheapest product. To his credit, Coleman seems to intuit this as he meanders back to the recollection of cheapskate ways in which Minnesota’s Department of Transportation tested bridges for safety. The moral of the story is that we should spend money on ensuring the well-being of our infrastructure. Of course, this is the same point that underpins the logic of the contract between the speedy bridge-builder and the state, but Coleman resists this and instead remarks that the spending on the new bridge is all about covering up the embarrassment of politicians who should have been doing their job in the first place. Thus we are left with a contradictory message that basically amounts to this: “We should have been doing then what we are doing now, but what we are doing now doesn’t benefit us.”
I can concede that spending an exorbitant amount of money on public relations for the new bridge is unnecessary, but the campaign to be complain about the new bridge by invoking unassailable should’a/could’a/would’a arguments from hindsight are more so. Perhaps that explains why money is being poured into a PR effort in the first place.