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Happy Birthday, Theodore Roosevelt!

Theodore Roosevelt’s remarkable life started 163 years ago in New York City, making him one of the few presidents to be born and raised in a major American city. He overcame childhood asthma with vigorous exercise and began his political career as a crusading reform Republican in the New York Legislature. The death of his first wife drove him to the North Dakota badlands, where his courage and stamina were forged in the crucible of the Old West. Even there, Roosevelt continued his habit of reading a book a day to stimulate his mind as well. Returning to New York, he became New York City Police Commissioner and worked to clean up the corruption in the department. His leadership and bravery with the Rough Riders propelled a political career and philosophy of national service that is a model for us in these difficult days.

In short, TR was a badass not just in his behavior, but also in his challenging and visionary leadership in public policy. Let us all remember him on this day and strive to hold our current leaders to the same level of courage and national commitment on behalf of America!

Foreign Policy, Realist Theory

Afghanistan – What the President Should Have Said

My fellow Americans

Two decades ago, a group of terrorists killed almost 3,000 in Washington and New York in a brazen attack they thought could break the spirit of the American people.

They were spectacularly wrong.

America came together and struck back, driving both the the Al Qaeda terrorists and their Afghan enablers out of power.  Al Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden and many of his henchmen now lie dead at the hands of our courageous American soldiers.  Afghanistan was given an opportunity to build a new government that respected both international law and the aspirations of its own people.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban learned a lesson about the limits of their power.  But, so have we.  

While the United States can effectively defend itself and our values at home against our enemies, we cannot impose those values on other nations.  In today’s world, there is no superpower anymore. We live in a world of independent sovereign nations, each with the right and power to defend their own values and goals so long as they do not threaten our own. Indeed, as a nation founded on the concept of e pluribus unum – out of the many, one – we have a unique ability to succeed in this new reality.

We also live in a world where traditional military force can be challenged by new kinds of power.  Whether the attacks come through terrorism, cyber warfare, or other new forms of conflict, America must be ready to respond in unity and consistent with the principles of our constitutional democracy. I am prepared to discuss with Congress new ways to authorize and respond to future foreign attacks of the old and new kind.

In the end, the best way to strengthen America against these new challenges is to strengthen the American people here at home.  It is time for us to unify to defeat the challenges of hopelessness, ignorance and division that weaken us here at home.  We cannot be the beacon of liberty to those struggling against dictatorship if we betray our commitment to expanding the American Dream for our own citizens. It is this challenge I call you to meet now and will continue to do so in the coming months. 

While the world has changed, some things remain the same.  As one of the first and most powerful democracies, we must always be an advocate of human rights against those who wish to keep their people in the darkness of dictatorship.  The new Afghan government must respect those rights if it wishes to be fully accepted into the community of nations. We will insist on protection of those who worked for those rights and will offer sanctuary for them and those who helped our troops in their mission. It is who we are, and we can do no less. 

We learned from our experience in Afghanistan that America is not all powerful.  Nevertheless, rest assured the power of our people, our ideas and our nation endures, because of you and your fellow Americans.

Thank you, and God bless the United States of America.

Domestic Policy, Infrastructure

Building Back Unified

Road Sign from the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway

It goes without saying that I appreciate the value of highways. Fundamentally, they are the basis on land of the great network of trade routes which go to make up civilization.

Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in in the Montana Guidebook to the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, 1921

A nation’s transportation network is among its most important sources of economic and geopolitical strength. Few knew this better than Theodore Roosevelt and so it was fitting that the first transcontinental highway was christened with his name after TR’s death in 1919 (see this guidebook from the Montana portion).  It was the precursor of the numbered US Highway system and eventually the Interstate Highway system. All of those projects were designed to unify America and brought Americans together through the experience of travel.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill recently agreed to between President Biden and the Congress is in the tradition of this drive for national unity.  The new bill addresses the sorry state of many of our roads, ports and other critical infrastructure while leaving more controversial issues for later legislation. It authorizes $550 billion in new money over five years along with another $500 billion in previously authorized expenditures (hence the $1 trillion price tag referenced in some news reports). Specifically, the new money will be spent in the following areas:

Transportation– $284 billion to be spent to repair roads, bridges, ports and railways

Utilities– $243 billion for upgrading electric power infrastructure and replacing old pipe to stop lead from leaching into municipal water systems. It also includes $55 billion to extend broadband Internet service to rural communities, which is desperately needed to spur healthy economic development here in the Western states.

Environmental Cleanup – The Superfund program for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, mines and wells has been moribund due to lack of funding. This bill would re-invigorate the program with $21 billion to begin this process anew.

Coincidentally, the $550 billion is almost the same amount spent to build the Interstate Highway System (in 1950’s and 60’s dollars). 

The President’s original proposal was a whopping $2.6 trillion that tried to force through Congress various human needs and climate change programs under the popular brand of “infrastructure”.  Much of this is necessary, but the attempt to enact it through under a deceptive title was divisive and ultimately futile. Both President Biden and the bipartisan group of senators should be congratulated for opting for a unifying bill instead.

The new compromise also grasps the nettle of insuring this program to strengthen our nation does not  weaken it by adding to the budget deficit. It would be financed by almost 500 billion in revenue transfers and new revenues, such as reinstating the Superfund tax on the chemical industry and tightening tax rules on cryptocurrency trading.   A plan to beef up tax enforcement on the wealthy that could have brought in as much as $100 billion was unfortunately dropped but may be included in a bill on the human needs legislation. 

After excoriating Republicans for being obstructionist, it is ironic to see the Democratic House leadership trying to obstruct this bill to compel the adoption of the more controversial climate change and social welfare spending through the budget reconciliation bill.  Our families and neighborhoods need help, but federal dollars will only paper over the underlying problems.  Immigration reform, reshoring manufacturing and education reform will do more in the long term to solve them.  Many Democrats and Republicans believe this as well.  The House leadership should join them rather than their Democratic Socialist wing and unify around this bill as the Theodore Roosevelt Highway and similar infrastructure programs of the past unified the country.