04/13/2012 05:13 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2012

A Roadmap for America's Future: Highway 21 Not To Be Confused With Highway 61 Revisited

Sometimes it's not a good idea to use certain symbols to represent things, especially when the subtext involved, well, makes you look stupid. Take Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future. On the website there's a picture of a cherubic Paul Ryan wearing a greenish sport coat (too long at the sleeves), a blue button down shirt and what appears to be a burgundy and white diagonally stripped tie. To borrow a line that Kevin Garnett once said to Craig Sager, "Go home and burn that outfit." Perhaps, the fact it shows really bad taste in clothes, is Ryan's point. That is, nothing seems very coordinated and by virtue of that "bad taste" it's supposed to indicate that clothing is not what's important to Paul. That may be, but if clothes make the man then you can finish the cliché.

But what's more egregious than Ryan's outfit is what's opposite Ryan; namely, a supposed information sign one might see on the highway with the words A ROADMAP FOR AMERICA'S FUTURE (with the word "ROADMAP" in decidedly larger font than the rest) next to an Interstate "21" sign. Now one shouldn't confuse Interstate 21 with U.S. Route 21 which is a north-south United States highway running from Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina to Wytheville, Virginia. Interstate 21 doesn't exist, but that's not what the sign is supposed to mean. The Interstate 21 sign is (Ready?) supposed to represent the 21st Century! (Wink, wink, nod, nod.) How clever these political people are. How subtle. But why, might you ask, is it so egregious to use highway signs to indicate America's future? Well, because the interstate highway system in this country is falling apart -- so if the metaphor is meant to mean that following Ryan's budget will take America to its future, then, well, the future doesn't look very healthy.

The Interstate Highway System was authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 which, ironically, was better known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 since it was originally thought of as a key component for defense. Eisenhower was impressed with the German autobahn as a major part of a national defense system that would be vital in deploying military supplies and troops in case of foreign invasion. So, it's all the more ironic that Ryan would use these transportational signs as a way to convey to the American public that the road to a better future is to follow his roads. To refresh Mr. Ryan's mind (if not his metaphor) , in a 2007 article written by John W. Schoen:

  • 33 percent of the nation's major roads are in "poor or mediocre condition."
  • 36 percent of major urban highways are congested.
  • 26 percent of bridges are "structurally deficient or functionally obsolete."
That was in 2007. According to the 2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure :

Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost of $78.2 billion a year -- $710 per motorist. Roadway conditions are a significant factor in about one-third of traffic fatalities. Poor road conditions cost U.S. motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs -- $333 per motorist; 33% of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 36% of the nation's major urban highways are congested. Current spending level of $70.3 billion for highway capital improvements is well below the estimated $186 billion needed annually to substantially improve the nation's highways.

Final grade for America's Roads: D-. That's just slightly higher than an F+ and if your son or daughter came home with that final grade, then I'm not sure you'd be pleased about it.

So, where does Congress stand on trying to raise the highway grade from a D- to something one might consider a passing grade? As Bloomberg reported on March 29, 2012:

Road projects in every U.S. state would have been affected if Congress failed to act by March 31. The U.S. would have been forced to stop collecting all but 4.3 cents of the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline, putting further strain on the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for highway and transit projects. Most Democrats said a vote on a two-year, $109 billion highway plan, passed by the Senate March 14 and blocked in the House, would give states and localities more certainty. "This extension kicks the can down the road," said Representative Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the House transportation committee. "It fails to rebuild America just as the construction season begins."

Blocked by the House? You mean to say the Republicans in Congress tried to block the same plan to help rebuild the US highway system that Paul Ryan is advocating to be the "road to the future?" The word "hypocrite" is a great word. It comes from the Greek hypokritēs which means, "actor" and, by extension, "mask" since that's what an actor wears. In this case, the word fits Ryan perfectly since regardless of the clothes he wears, the mask remains the same.