Joe Biden has been blessedly pushing for what should be an obvious policy idea to relieve our economic woes—invest in building infrastructure, especially a train system that would reduce pollution, relieve people’s spending on cars and gasoline, and employ people in the process. It’s a peculiar psychosis Americans have that we have to reinvent a wheel that was spun around and around to great effect in the 30s. But as Ezra points out, Biden’s pro-train bent was far from an inevitable product of his big brain.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden didn’t come to support rail through an abstract interest in urban policy. Rather, his first wife died young, and he needed to be around for his kids, and so he rode the train a lot. President-elect Obama, similarly, has lived in Chicago and New York, and so has some visceral experience with the utility of pubic transit. He’s not shown any particular interest or leadership on the issue, but his lived experience suggests he’ll have the urbaner’s traditional sympathy for transit. That wasn’t true for Clinton, in Arkansas, or Gore, in Tennessee, or Bush, in Texas, or Cheney, in Wyoming. And though it would be odd if transit policy was decisively transformed because the Senator from Delaware took the train a lot, and the president had lived in Chicago and so was favorably disposed towards trains, and these feelings intersected with a moment of tremendous infrastructure and acute concern over vehicle emissions, weirder things have happened.
It’s not all that weird. It’s an unfortunate reality of politics that personal experience informs decision-making to a degree that’s uncomfortable for those of us who wish it could all be dry policy discussions. Research has demonstrated that congressmen (who are mostly men, alas) with daughters are more liberal than those without when it comes to voting on feminist issues such as equal pay and reproductive rights. Of course, there are a number of factors that feed a congressman’s voting choices, but it seems that imagining how your own child could be negatively affected by your vote is a big factor.