Dis Passionate

“Passionate.” Is there a more overused word in America today? To anyone who will listen, we blather on about how “passionate” we are about our business model, product, political ideology, religion, pet breed, you name it. Passion, passion, passion. Good grief. And we command others to get still more passionate, because, as one inspirational poster recently declared “Nothing in the world has ever been achieved without passion.”

…which perhaps explains my level of achievement. Look, I don’t have that poster in my office and don’t subscribe to that conventional wisdom. I’m not convinced that passion is such an unambiguous panacea for what ails us. While passion has its place, these days I submit that deliberation, patience and a measure of dispassion are more rare and precious American commodities than passion.

As I wrote the day after the bridge collapse, sometimes we – bloggers, politicos, flacks, reporters and water cooler experts — just need to think and learn before we talk. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with raising questions like “why did it fall,” “could it have been prevented,” “are we spending enough,” and “how do we prevent similar misery being visited upon others.” In fact, it’s irresponsible to NOT raise such questions. But instantaneously and passionately ANSWERING the questions in a nearly 100 percent fact free environment is pointless and destructive.

After almost two weeks since the collapse, we still don’t know much. We’ve learned that the bridge wasn’t in great shape, but then again thousands of bridges in worse shape aren’t crumbling. There may have been a design law, but we’re not sure that was the cause. The proposal to drill on steel plates may have made the bridge more safe, but then again putting all those holes in it may have made it less safe. Construction may have played a role, or not. The decision to go with the inspect rather than attempt a fix strategy may have been driven by tax pledge-related budget scarcity, or it may have just been someone’s best technical judgment that turned out to be wrong.

These are not passionate statements. In fact, these are mind numbingly dull statements. Equivocal. Milquetoast. Utterly dispassionate.

And the truth as we know it today.

Of course, there are things we do know. We do know that we underinvest in transportation. Numerous analyses show that our roads and bridges are in disrepair and not meeting our needs. That’s a problem we can address now, and kudos to Governor Pawlenty for finally stepping up on that front.

We just don’t know yet if that chronic underinvestment in transportation caused this particular catastrophe. The questions Benidt, Nick Coleman and others are raising are legitimate. But the answers will have to wait.

When we know more, a vigorous debate needs to occur. I get frustrated with my conservative friends who maintain that government investment to prevent harm is wasteful, but then cry “finger pointing” when harm happens. If it turns out that lack of funding contributed to this collapse, a favorite conservative buzzword should come into play – accountability.

So, let’s chill a bit with all the passion-speak in America. A poster that I do approve of summarizes my Spock-esque passion for dispassion rather well: “It takes 43 muscles to frown and 17 to smile, but it doesn’t take any to just sit there with a dumb look on your face.”

– Loveland