'I killed that Tunnel to Somewhere'

In debating Freudian psychology, there's an old saying that sometimes a train going into a tunnel is simply just a train going into a tunnel. But sometimes there really is a lot more going on. Just ask New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who's been in the news a lot this week, both as the new darling of the Tea Party going into the 2012 presidential hoedown and for his imperial -- and now under further review, as they say in the NFL -- decision to spike an $8.7 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River that would greatly improve the speed and flow of mass transit from New Jersey (and beyond) into Manhattan.

If Christie's decision ultimately stands, the practical implications -- the state would be out an estimated $3 billion in federal dollars for the rail tunnel, a project that's already consumed $478 million -- pale in comparison to the economic impact of an estimated 6,000 lost construction related jobs in the short-term, and dooming the nation's largest metropolis to a less-than-world-class mass transit system in the long run.

But politically, you have to agree that -- even if you oppose Christie's actions -- he'd done the American voter a huge favor going into the 2010 mid-term elections. The New Jersey governor is showing the world what a Tea Party inspired government will look like in 2011 and beyond.

The irony is staggering.

For a movement that claims to be rooted in American exceptionalism, and the notion that the United States is fated to play a role on the world stage not just as a great nation but as the sole superpower, Christie's premature withdrawal from the tunnel is an admission of impotence (sorry Sigmund, I couldn't help myself) -- the polar opposite of the display of strength his supporters delusionally see. And this, I fear, will be the broader legacy of "the Party of No" if the anti-Obama backlash sweeps Christie's GOP back into power. This retrenchment -- in the city that once had the swagger to build the George Washington Bridge and, yes, the World Trade Center -- is a metaphor for a nation now fighting openly to become second-rate.

Other nations - China, most obviously -- are displaying the bravado in the 21st Century that America used to show off in the 20th Century. The fast-growing economy is not only spending $300 billion on what will be the world's top network of high-speed rail but exporting their technology to other nations. That's one symbol of a coming era of misplaced priorities that will doom everything from infrastructure to alternative energy to education and maybe health care if a GOP Congress gets its way.

There's more I could say, but Bob Herbert in the New York Times said it better over the weekend:

We can’t put the population to work, or get the kids through college, or raise the living standards of the middle class and the poor. We can’t rebuild the infrastructure or curb our destructive overreliance on fossil fuels.

There have been many times when the U.S. has stunned the world with the breadth and greatness of its achievements — the Marshall Plan, the G.I. Bill, the world’s highest standard of living, the world’s finest higher education system, the space program, and on and on.

Somewhere, somehow, things went haywire. The nation that built the Erie Canal and Hoover Dam and the transcontinental railroad can’t even build a tunnel beneath the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York.

Unless people wake up in the next few weeks. I'm not optimistic.