You’re a First Lieutenant, and you just received orders to lead your platoon on an uphill assault of an enemy position.Most of the platoon members will die. You almost certainly will die because you must be in the front wave. You will die so that some other platoon can make a successful flanking movement, so that other platoons and companies can continue their sweep of the region. If the enemy position is taken, the war will still go on. If it is not taken, the war will still go on.
You have a wife and small child at home. So do some of your troops. When you die, your significant other will get an insurance payment that will keep them out of the poverty zone for a couple of years. And the flag that draped your coffin.
The war could be World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or any of the conflicts in between. The result would be the same. You and your platoon make the assault and pay the ultimate price. You get a soldier’s funeral and maybe your name in the paper and then you are forgotten.
You knew this before you made the charge, but you made the charge anyway. It was your duty and there was a tradition pushing you. In America, soldiers, sailors, marines and pilots fight when told, even when death is certain.
Consider the irony then, that so many of the brave veterans who now serve as Congressmen or Senators are cowed by the prospect of doing what needs to be done with the federal highway program.
They have lifelong benefits that anyone would envy. A lucrative pension. Gold-plated medical and dental insurance. Stature and respect in their communities. Security if needed. The list goes on and on.
And yet now, at the time in their lives when the worst that could happen to them is being banished to live the good life, many of them cannot bring themselves to increase a user fee that has not been raised since 1993.
The reasons for backing away from this particular machine gun nest vary a little bit on a superficial level. Some fret that the economy will be struck a mortal blow. Some say it will be too hard on the poor. Some just oppose any kind of tax, no matter what.
Very few of these Representatives and Senators actually believe the swill they are selling, and none of us should. The fuel tax is a user fee. You pay for what you get, and you get what you pay for. And if we don’t start paying more for our roads, we are going to get a lot less.
This is not a partisan point of view. The leading think tanks for liberal, conservative and libertarian interests have all studied America’s decaying road and bridge infrastructure and come to essentially the same conclusion: we are hundreds of billions of dollars in arrears on the work that needs to be done to preserve in-place assets and expand capacity.
All but a few flat-earth-society types in Congress have to fully comprehend the seriousness of the challenge. They also have to realize that no combination of remedies will be effective if one of them isn’t a substantial increase in the fuel tax.
And yet these dozens of veterans who once would have sacrificed their lives and the security of their dependants to take an almost meaningless enemy position cannot now muster the political will to do what must be done.
Standing with them, on the left and the right, are hundreds more representatives and senators who, had they served in a war or conflict, would have also put their lives on the line if ordered. Even though it was not the smart thing to do for their careers or their families. Even though it would have meant they could not one day walk among us, the electorate, to proselytize about the economy, patriotism, courage and values.
This is an irony that we citizens have created. We would think poorly of a soldier who refused to charge when duty called, but we re-elect politicians who duck and hide.