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George Will Is Confused By The Concept Of Trains


First Posted: 03/02/11 06:00 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

One way of looking at high-speed rail systems is that they are a means by which distant communities get connected, economic development and jobs are fostered, and workers with a diverse array of marketable skills can improve their mobility and thus their employment prospects. But another way of looking at high-speed rail is that it's some nonsense that came to a bunch of hippies as they tripped balls at a Canned Heat concert. That's my takeaway with George Will's latest grapple-with-the-real-world session, in which he attempts to figure out "Why liberals love trains." It's "Matrix" deep, yo:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they--unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted--are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was "Workers of the world unite!" or "Power to the people!" Now it is less resonant: "All aboard!"

Yes. Because Karl Marx invented mass transit.

Anyway, Matt Yglesias does his best to contend with this bafflement:

Taken logically, this doesn't make very much sense. Intercity passenger rail is primarily an alternative to airplanes, and to intercity buses not to cars. If Amtrak disappeared tomorrow, people still wouldn't want to drive from Boston to Manhattan and end up paying through the nose for parking.

Up until now, I'd always imagined that Amtrak was my preferred conveyance to New York City because I could relax on the train in relative comfort, reading or napping, then hop on the subway to go visit my friend Megan in Astoria. Thanks to Will, I now know that the reason I prefer this to the alternative is not because I hate the long, grueling drive or the tolls or the traffic snarls or the terrifying mystery of Astoria's many parking regulations -- it's because I hate freedom itself. (None of this explains why conservatives, like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood or Florida Rep. John Mica, like trains.)

Previously, I learned from Will that my affinity for blue jeans meant that I hated Fred Astaire, or something.

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