The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was not afraid to unleash the federal government on a bold project. And no, in this case, I’m not talking about keeping the union together. In his case, I’m referring to Lincoln’s decision to sign into law a bill to boost the construction of a transcontintental railroad.
Of course, Lincoln shouldn’t get all the credit. Support for a transcontinental railroad was part of the Republican Party platform of 1860.
After the legislation was approved in 1862, there were continual setbacks. The Union Pacific Railroad languished. Scandals mounted. Yet despite it all, the final spike was hammered into place at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, linking the nation and heralding a new burst of prosperity.
When you read that history, you’re reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it’s possible, sometimes, to achieve important things.
Brooks links the 1860s railroad project — the good, the bad, and the ugly of it — with today’s equally bold but likely imperfect drive to jump-start a new energy future. It’s an intriguing historical parallel. Will Sen. Lindsey Graham be the only contemporary Republican who has the breadth of vision to appreciate it?
Addendum: Brooks also notes that the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham effort — the American Power Act — “establishes a predictable price for carbon.” He cites a sources who explains why that’s so important, reminding me of a conversation I had with coal industry representative last year. He told me his industry doesn’t fear a carbon tax, per se. What they really fear is price volatility.
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