Saturday, March 19, 2011

George Will's Flip-flop

My previous post, "George Will: Driving a Wedge" was re-posted late last Thursday on the Energy Bulletin site. It received a few comments from Energy Bulletin readers; among them was a comment from Eddiejoe67: "George Will was for high speed rail before he was against it." Eddiejoe's comment linked to an article in Grist published on March 4 and written by cities editor Sarah Goodyear. Goodyear mentions a reader who "tipped [them] off" to an article Will had written almost ten years earlier, shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Goodyear writes:

In the dark days immediately after 9/11, Will seems to have had a revelation about how a certain mode of transportation could help our nation be stronger and more secure. In an Oct. 1, 2001 column syndicated in the Jewish World Review, Will recommended three steps in response to the attack that the nation had just sustained. First, buy more B-2 bombers. Second, cut corporate taxes. And third? Let Will speak for himself (emphasis mine):
Third, build high-speed rail service.
Two months ago this columnist wrote: "A government study concludes that for trips of 500 miles or less -- a majority of flights; 40 percent are of 300 miles or less -- automotive travel is as fast or faster than air travel, door to door. Columnist Robert Kuttner sensibly says that fact strengthens the case for high-speed trains. If such trains replaced air shuttles in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Kuttner says that would free about 60 takeoff and landing slots per hour."
Thinning air traffic in the Boston-New York-Washington air corridor has acquired new urgency. Read Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker essay on the deadly dialectic between the technological advances in making air travel safer and the adaptations to these advances by terrorists.
"Airport-security measures," writes Gladwell, "have simply chased out the amateurs and left the clever and the audacious." This is why, although the number of terrorist attacks has been falling for many years, fatalities from hijackings and bombings have increased. As an Israeli terrorism expert says, "the history of attacks on commercial aviation reveals that new terrorist methods of attack have virtually never been foreseen by security authorities."
The lesson to be learned is not defeatism. Security improvements can steadily complicate terrorists' tasks and increase the likelihood of defeating them on the ground. However, shifting more travelers away from the busiest airports to trains would reduce the number of flights that have to be protected and the number of sensitive judgments that have to be made, on the spot, quickly, about individual travelers. Congress should not adjourn without funding the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

So long before passenger trains turned into a tool for socialist control, Will thought they might be useful both as a transportation and as a national security solution.

It's really a tragedy that a writer as intelligent and incisive as Will can be is apparently unwilling to counter the right-wing echo chamber.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Don,

    I was glad to see your post at EB.

    Thanks for this update. The right seems really good at enforcing message control--look at how even moderate Republican elected officials have changed their stances over the past few years, on a whole range of subjects.