Hoover Dam, political metaphor

Updated
 

After winning the Illinois primary on Tuesday, Mitt Romney’s victory speech featured an unexpected argument. The former governor was trying to argue that “government” stands in the way of American progress, which led to this observation: “We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Today, we can’t even build a pipeline.”

It was probably a reference to Keystone XL, but Romney was also referring to two major, expensive taxpayer-financed infrastructure projects – the kind of policies Republicans now oppose. Indeed, if his point was to talk about how awful “government” is, why did Romney point to the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway system as worthwhile initiatives?

Putting that question aside, about 16 hours later, President Obama delivered a speech on energy policy in Boulder City, Nevada, and made a related observation.

“Eight decades ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, the people of Boulder City were busy working on another energy project you may have heard of,” Obama said. “Like today, it was a little bit ahead of its time; it was a little bit bigger than this solar plant – it was a little louder, too. It was called the Hoover Dam. And at the time, it was the largest dam in the world. Even today, it stands as a testimony to American ingenuity, American imagination, the power of the American spirit – a testimony to the notion we can do anything. That was true back then; it is true today.”

Hmm, Hoover Dam. Where have I heard about that recently? Wait, now I remember.

This “Lean Forward” promo came out last year, and it featured Rachel making a larger argument, referencing that very dam on the minds of Obama and Romney. And while I’m glad this project has become such a popular political metaphor all of a sudden, I’m afraid one of these two leaders may be missing part of the point.

Here’s what Rachel said in the ad:

“When you are this close to Hoover Dam, it makes you realize how small a human is in relation to this as a human project. You can’t be the guy who builds this. You can’t be the town who builds this. You can’t even be the state who builds this. You have to be the country that builds something like this. This is a national project. This is a project of national significance. We’ve got those projects on the menu right now. And we’ve got to figure out whether or not we are still a country that can think this big.”

I’m not sure if Romney fully appreciates this, but if he checked in with his friends on Capitol Hill, he’d realize that most congressional Republicans balk at expanding American infrastructure investments because (a) it spends money, and (b) it’s not a tax cut; while another chunk of congressional Republicans reject the idea on principle on the 10th Amendment grounds (the Constitution doesn’t mention highways, bridges, or dams).

“We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam”? Well, yes, we did, and we can do so again. Does Romney not realize he’s making a Democratic argument?

Infrastructure

Hoover Dam, political metaphor

Updated