Mass Transit is As American as Apple Pie

Sometimes I want to say that something about mass transit drives conservatives batty. Other times I want to say that the conservative discourse about mass transit simply illustrates the fact that it’s an ideology driven by inchoate resentments rather than any ideas about policy or the role of government. Either way, this error-ridden paragraph from Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru, two of the movement’s shining starts, underscores the point:

The Left’s search for a foreign template to graft onto America grew more desperate. Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society? You can see it in Sicko, wherein Michael Moore extols the British national health-care system, the French way of life, and even the munificence of Cuba; you can hear it in all the admonitions from left-wing commentators that every other advanced society has government child care, or gun control, or mass transit, or whatever socialistic program or other infringement on our liberty we have had the wisdom to reject for decades.

Matthew Schmitz ably handles the allegation that mass transit is a “socialistic program” or “infringement on our liberty” by asking compared to what?

Presumably they think this because mass transit is built and administered by the government and supported, quite often, by taxes. But the exact same thing is true of highways. Would Lowry and Ponnuru denounce the Interestate system as socialistic on the same grounds?

But of course they have nothing to say about genuine infringements of liberty like minimum parking requirements, maximum lot occupancy rules, building height limits, prohibitions on accessory dwellings, etc. that are mainstays of America’s centrally planned suburbs. That’s because to them what really matters isn’t socialism or liberty (certainly nobody who cares about liberty could be as enthusiastic about torture as National Review writers are) but Americanness. Even here, though, their critique falls badly flat. The world’s largest subway systems are in Japan and South Korea — not socialistic Europe — followed by New York City right here in the United States. Multiple-unit train control was invented in Chicago, as part of the world’s first electrically driven railway. I believe that all of the world’s 24-hour rapid transit systems (NYC Subway, Chicago L, NY-NJ PATH) are in the United States of America.


But here the problem is that merely being located in the United States of America isn’t good enough to pass the inane identity politics litmus tests of the contemporary right — New York City isn’t America (except for purposes of exploiting 9/11 on behalf of torture and aggressive war) nor are Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, DC, etc “really” American. So therefore mass transit is un-American and therefore it’s socialist, so it follows that anyone who wants to build mass transit is doing so out of socialistic hatred for the United States.