Independence from "The Politics of Can't-Possibly-Do"
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Last week we applauded Thomas Friedman's column "Anxious in America" as a call to reject the "The Can't Do Society" mentality pervading our society. By the flurry of letters to the editor in the Times yesterday, it appears that many others felt the same way.
Today in his Wall Street Journal column Daniel Henninger hits the subject again, using the World Trade Center rebuilding project as a guide.
Writes Henninger (my bolds):
Given a choice between unity and politics, we chose the indulgent pleasures of politics.
one needs a functioning political system, and it's an open question whether we have one, or are losing the one we've got.
Yes, we have a healthy politics, but after the immense fun of watching the campaigns and the speeches ends, what remains is the work of running the system.
This week the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a stunning document to explain why Ground Zero has remained nothing but a hole for some seven years...It is arguably the greatest political and bureaucratic fiasco in the history of the world.
Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward, who did the remarkably frank report at the request of a frustrated Gov. David Paterson of New York, wrote that original estimates of time and cost (now at $15 billion) "did not reflect the unprecedented challenges associated with a project . . . involving so many different public and private stakeholders." (Arguably the system began its decline when the vocabulary changed deadly "factions" into benevolent "stakeholders.")
Ground Zero is a perfect storm of contemporary American politics. The report cites "19 different governmental entities from every level of government each laying claim to some component of the overall project." And, "Each entity makes daily decisions about their individual projects, but no streamlined process or authority is in place to . . . ensure that each decision is in the best interest of the overall project." ...Besides the public players, the report notes "dozens" of family groups representing the victims, plus various community groups. Bowing to another toxic value, the agency promises to still be "inclusive," then complains no one has the authority to decide anything.
That is because productive decision making has fallen as a public value below "being heard." Even being heard is no longer enough. The "stakeholders" have to prevail, somehow assuming that the process – or a complex project like this – will endure endless blows. Meanwhile, construction of the wholly private, 52-story 7 World Trade Center building was done in 2006.
But as a case study of system malfunction, the Port Authority report on unbuilt Ground Zero is a warning shot to our acrimonious national politics. A can-do tradition is losing ground to can't-possibly-do. Barack Obama's appeal rests heavily on the belief that he'll bring back can-do. He's one man. The answer lies deeper, with a people who have to choose between politics that moves its system forward or a politics that just wants to have fun.