"The nation asks for action, and action now."
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural address, March 4, 1933
"We need action -- and action now."
-- Barack Obama, YouTube address, December 6, 2008
THE GOOD SHIP The Pride of the Susquehanna is perilously close to sinking in a wave of federal regulation.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Biden influence on the Obama presidency surfaces as the president-elect cribs an FDR line for his YouTube speech and his first serious policy pronouncement from FDR as channeled by disgraced Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens.
The symmetry of these events tells at once why the Republican Party so richly deserved its recent defeat. More troubling, it sends a clear signal that originality and daring are qualities already lacking in both speech and substance from the incoming president and his team.
First, the painfully familiar tale of the federal government and a business.
The Pride of the Susquehanna has been sailing the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania waterfront -- the Susquehanna River -- since 1988. A stern driven paddlewheeler, the riverboat was the inspiration of one Michael Trephan, a local businessman. In a recent front-page story in the Harrisburg Patriot-News by reporter Jerry L. Gleason, we are told the Pride has spent the last twenty years engaging in a blatant act of capitalism. Paddling along for two decades the boat has spent its time hosting, for a fee, "dinner cruises, charter trips, weddings, scenic cruises" and the like. In other words, this private venture, unsupported by taxdollars. has spent private capital to create jobs. First by conceiving the idea on paper, then building the dream into physical reality, then staffing it with a crew and a captain who have paddlewheeled up and down the state capital's riverfront. Catering in style to Pennsylvanians and Pennsylvania tourists, many of whom so love the boat they have voluntarily donated their own dollars to help keep it ship shape.
Enter the federal government. Remember that old Reagan joke about the most deadly words in the English language? "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." The federal government, still, it should be noted, run by the Bush administration, has shown up to help.
Specifically, government -- appearing this time in the guise of the Coast Guard -- is forcing the owners of the Pride to cough up $20,000 in renovations by 2009 -- now only weeks away. Or…hasta la vista to the private venture that is The Pride of the Susquehanna.
The government, you see, has set its bureaucrats to work and decided that the Coast Guard's "stability standards" must be revised from the current 140 pounds per passenger to the new 185 pounds per passenger. Why? Not withstanding that Americans are constantly being told our health care isn't even up to par with that of the Canadians and the Brits, a U.S. government spokeswoman (and I'm not making this up) says the reason for coming down on the Pride is that "we're all eating better, we have better health care and people are generally larger than they were 20 years ago."
So. What does this mean for the folks who own and run the Pride? Unless they can quickly convince Congress -- Congress!! -- to grant them an exception from this new regulation, they are mandated "to take 9,000 pounds off the weight of the boat just to be able to carry 95 passengers next season." This reduces the number of passengers from 144 per trip to 95. And of course, the amount of money that can be earned. To accomplish this, according to reporter Gleason, the owners have "to meet the weight requirements (which) include replacing steel rails with aluminum ones, reducing the size of fresh-water and fuel tanks, removing a brass steam whistle and its compressor, switching to lighter operating cables and replacing wooden tables, benches and chairs with lighter furnishings."
To date, the Pride has safely carried more than half-a-million passengers over twenty years. And if by chance the boat were to sink under the weight of all those fat Americans with excellent health care on board? The passengers could walk to shore -- because the Pride operates in just three to four feet of water. The Susquehanna River at this point is notoriously shallow.
THIS REGULATORY NUTTINESS is the kind of story Ronald Reagan loved to tell. The sad part is it is being told of bureaucrats in a Republican administration -- and doubtless conveys an anecdotal snapshot of just how far the GOP has strayed from its conservative principles.
While the fate of the Pride is clearly the result of liberal principles the Obama team also admires -- lives by -- it is nothing short of amazing that the new president is determined to resolve our economic crisis by casting himself (in plagiarized language) as a presidential version of the pork-ladling Ted Stevens. If you thought the Bridge to Nowhere was crazy, wait till you understand what's coming from Obama.
The president-elect, not satisfied with the taxpayer bailout dollars now cascading in the trillions down a stupendous rat hole, is busily planning a mammoth public works construction program that makes soon-to-be former Senator Stevens look like a nickel-and-dimer. Using FDR's words Obama's intention, according to Sunday's New York Times (which failed to mention the FDR connection), is to pick "winners and losers" in the private economy with a "government-directed industrial policy" run by politicians. Instead of by the kind of entrepreneurs who created The Pride of the Susquehanna.
Obama and company, employing the same liberal principle that created the Fannie Mae mess and imploded the global economy, are now fleshing out the details of how they will force march the American economy backwards to the 1930s or to a Stevens-style pork barrelism. Instead of New Deal terms like the Works Progress Administration you will hear buzz words like "green jobs" or "hybrid buses" and so on.
"If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last," said Reagan.
The crocodile is now munching on a Harrisburg riverboat. Obama intends to feed that crocodile.
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