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First came the trains, then the death march on to the….buses

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I swear to god, half my blogging (if not more) from here on out is going to have to be dedicated, once again, to examples of how Republicans claim they’re motivated by strong principles, but in fact they’re just straight up culture warriors who never take a pass at a pot shot. Here’s the latest example:

In some post-election hardball between the Obama administration and newly-elected Republicans, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is threatening to take back stimulus funds from states if they do not follow through on proposed rail projects.

CNN obtained copies of letters LaHood sent to incoming Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin who have stated their opposition to rail projects already underway in their states. In the letters, LaHood said a rail link between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati in Ohio, and a high-speed rail connection between Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are vital to economic growth in both regions.

Lahood wrote that he respects the power of governors to make decisions for their states, but, “There seems to be some confusion about how these high-speed rail dollars can be spent.”

To Wisconsin’s Gov.-elect Scott Walker, LaHood said that none of the funds can be used for roads or any other projects. He went on to say, “Consequently, unless you change your position, we plan to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Wisconsin’s project so that we do not waste taxpayer’s money.” That letter was delivered on Monday.

To make this very clear, the Republicans—who generally like to carry on about how they’re just against the stimulus, full stop—are happy to take the stimulus funds. They want the funds they claim are evil. They just don’t want to spend them on trains.

David Dayen has a theory:

These Republican governors are engaged in a little game. They want to decry “wasteful spending” without reducing that spending one bit. They just want to move the high speed rail money into fixing roads and bridges. I imagine this is because that will be completed faster and with a higher profile than the longer-term HSR projects.

Maybe that’s part of it. But I wouldn’t discount the straight up Republican hostility towards trains, especially compared to cars. When Republicans are pandering to their base, one of their most important pitches is to imply that evil liberals are trying to make you share breathing space with undesirables. As I noted earlier, one of the biggest selling points on creating hostility to health care reform was to provoke anxieties in the base of having to share public spaces with (fill the group that any particular wingnut hates). The RNC’s anti-health care website had a picture on it of a multi-racial line in an E.R. They weren’t overly subtle about this. This is political pandering to people who go into a red-eyed rage at having to dial “1” for English.

The symbol of modern conservatism is the SUV that pulls in and out of the garage of the front yard-free McMansion placed inside a gated community, a perfect little system that allows the conservative base voter to leave their home and run errands with an absolute minimum of contact with the outside world. Trains are basically the opposite of that—everyone buys a ticket (which may involve pressing “1” for English), and you sit down basically wherever, and anyone can sit in your car or even your aisle. If SUVs are the symbols of everything wrong with conservative America to liberals, then trains are definitely a symbol of everything wrong with liberal America to conservatives—the egalitarian nature of them, the prioritizing of fuel efficiency over living like a little pretend king in a little pretend castle, the lack of airs that are associated with train travel. Once the trains come in, it becomes easier not to own a car, and next thing you know, people are walking more, which means even more shoulder-rubbing with the hoi polloi. It’s all very disconcerting. No wonder Republican politicians want nothing to do with it.

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Like a good little liberal, I actually really love traveling by train, and access to nearby cities with a short trip on Amtrak is one of my favorite things about living out East. I did like driving on long distance trips when I had a car—at least, a 3 or 4 hour one, not the 6 or 7 or 10 hour ones I often had to make—but trains are more comfortable, plus you can plug in your laptop and watch videos if you want. Or, gasp, read a book. And they’re safer. I’m sure all of this is just making the culture war aspects of it worse, but I thought I’d just say.


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