Column: Bridge our divide by (literally) building bridges

November 11th, 2011

USA Today
By Robert H. Frank and P.J. O’Rourke
Nov. 10, 2011

Liberals and conservatives agree on little these days, and in the matter of the federal budget, virtually nothing. Recently, however, people from opposite sides of the aisle — the two of us — thought we had found an exception.

One, conservative satirist P.J. O’Rourke, said, “As we’re hurtling to our deaths on a collapsing highway bridge, the last thing on our minds will be our political differences.”

The other, liberal economist Robert Frank, almost concurred. “My parting thought would be, ‘If your pals hadn’t insisted on starving the beast, we might have fixed this #!@&! bridge in time!’ “

That exchange took place in a loosely structured debate at the Cornell Club about how to revive the U.S. economy. We both acknowledged the futility of abstract contention about the efficacy of Keynesian stimulus. (O’Rourke is not even quite sure what that sentence means.) Anyway, liberals have faith in what is blasphemy to conservatives, and no good comes of arguing religion — as the Middle East and Republican primaries attest.

But political realists, no matter how conservative, know that if economic stagnation and severe unemployment persist, more stimulus will be tried. Politicians, whether Democrats or Republicans, are willing to be called almost anything except helpless. The attempted stimulation might come from lower taxes or higher outlays or both, but come it will. And it’s sure to be the usual poorly concocted mélange of half-baked pet projects and cooked-up concessions to special interests.

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