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

9 thoughts on “Dis Passionate

  1. Ahhh, that poster you approve of says it all, doesn’t it?!! We need to live with a focus on being proactive, not just passionate. Very appropriate considering our line of work.

  2. 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.

    Are any of you seriously prepared to say that if last winter’s transportation bill had passed in full that the I-35 bridge collapse would not have happened?

    Can any of you say with a straight face that spending $4 million to move the decrepit Schubert Theatre six blocks, then spending another $11 million more to rehab it was an appropriate priority over bridge safety? (I happened to pick the Schubert. Buit substitute any special pork-barrel project for the Schubert – pro stadia, light rail, gardentop eco roofs, no matter.)

    There is no such thing as “competing priorities” – only the unwillingness or inability to prioritize. That’s what we have in Minnesota.

    Pawlenty is perilously close to following the political path of John McCain (down the toilet to obscurity and irrelevance) by catering to liberal knee-jerk non-solutions.

    If he calls a special session as a “solution” to this problem, he’s toast with conservatives.

  3. viciemonkey says:

    Pawlenty should stick to his guns. The money is there. It needs to be re-prioritized to go specifically into “roads and bridges” and not light rail. If only the people with special agendas would step out of this…would there be anyone left? People are most admirable when they are fighting for what they truly believe in. We are inundated with politicians who are grabbing for glory and looking for the next cause to fight for without wrapping-up their current infatuation/issue. Where are the “real”people? They can’t all be crap can they?

  4. jl says:

    Bare: Though I have a PASSION for straw man arguments, the “harm happens” reference was about public investment discussions generically, not about this specific bridge.

    Example: After my conservative chums spend years poo-pooing the need to spend on global warming measures to designed prevent catastrophic environmental harm, they scream “finger-pointing” when the catastrophe starts unfolding and someone suggests the stonewallers be held accountable. I must admit, it’s a nifty little circular argument.

  5. jloveland says:

    Vmonkey: I worry about the bridge getting bogged down in a city-state debate too, and think it’s more logical to run light rail through the congested U of M campus than over the I35W bridge. I’m not following the mayor on that one.

    But help me understand your thinking. Why do you assume that people like me in cars are entitled to public infrastructure, while people in transit have “special agendas” for seeking public infrastructure?

  6. I think Mayor Rybeck is trying to be visionary and look into the future – perhaps to a fault. Look at other major metro regions with good lines of mass transit. Just because the near-term solution is a LRT line through the U of M campus doesn’t mean that at some point in the future an LRT line across the I-35W bridge won’t make sense. The mayor should at least be listened to at this stage and MnDOT needs to get off its high horse and do the right thing instead of saying, “Our hands are tied with the federal funds we receive.” That’s the biggest line of BS I’ve ever heard.

  7. This whole discussion has opened my eyes a bit. The bridge collapse should put on the table all the things we spend tax money on, and we should debate what’s most needed. I’d hate to be the governor or a legislator having to make decisions on what’s going to be funded and what’s not. You can make an argument that moving and rehabilitating an old theater is a good investment that will help keep downtown vital and preserve a tax base and bring in visitors and even GOP conventions. But money, of course, is limited, and if I had to choose between a theater and keeping a bridge safe, I’d of course choose the bridge.

    But I’d also want to broaden the discussion. Just looking at how we spend money, and not also at how we collect money, is faulty reasoning and forces some choices we shouldn’t have to make as a society. Let’s prioritize and make tough choices — but let’s make sure we’re all putting our fare share into the pot that’s funding the choices we make. Is it fair for a hedge-fund manager to pay tax on what he or she earns at the lower capital-gains rate while the people who write and read this blog pay at the higher normal-income rate? I don’t think so.

    We need to be able to have reasonable and — sorry, Joe — passionate discussions about both ends of this equation: how we collect and how we spend. And the slings and arrows — “Tax-and-spend liberal” or “heartless greedy conservative” — don’t help that discussion at all.

    If it’s fair to look at social-program spending and see if it’s all needed — and of course it’s fair — then it’s also fair to look at tax laws and loopholes.

  8. I have to admit that I get passionate when it comes to spending. I am not a so-called “greedy conservative” but I do advocate for fiscal responsibility and I do get a bit testy when people start calling for more taxes when spending is out of control and for the most part completely unchecked.

    For instance, I did my homework and looked through all of Minnesota’s 147 earmarks from the 2005 Highway budget bill. The earmarks totaled $495 million, and while there were some good and necessary road projects in there, there was also an absolutely appalling number of “fluff” projects like walking trails and beautification. While I am all for these sorts of things, you cannot toss tens of millions of dollars at them and then claim that we don’t have enough money to maintain the critical infrastructure.

    I think that passion and emotion play a big part of this because you have people like me who take the “harsh” stance that parks and recreation should take a distant back seat to critical infrastructure and you have others who want both and are willing to raise taxes so they can have it. Of course, neither is necessarily right or wrong, but there has to be some meeting in the middle, and that’s where it gets even more ugly. Who gives up what? What compromises can be made? Can you get away with robbing Peter to pay Paul? There are a lot of opportunities to meet in the middle, but it’s going to take passionate people like myself and others to prioritize and compromise… And therein lies the challenge.

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