By Ron Bonn | 4 p.m. Sept. 1, 2016
Carl Sandburg memorably called his beloved Chicago, the “City of the Big Shoulders.” The America I grew up in, and that I covered for television news over four historic decades, once was, in truth, the land of the big shoulders. It thought big, did bigger. No more. There has been, I think, a failure of nerve.
These ideas began with a recent steamboat voyage up the lovely Columbia and Snake River systems, through Oregon to Idaho. Our replica stern-wheeler, “American Pride,” locked through eight dams, climbing almost 800 feet across waters once unnavigable. Those dams were part of a vast system, begun under Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, with no small goal: to light the entire Pacific Northwest. Inside the first dam, the Bonneville, 18 dynamos spin endlessly as Columbia races to the Pacific. The infrastructure is immense — two giant power blocks, a spillway damming the entire river, locks, fish ladders. Fourteen great dams in all.
In those same years, in America’s opposite corner, another gargantuan New Deal project — the Tennessee Valley Authority. It may be a polluting nuisance today, but it dragged the rural southeastern United States out of the 19th century and into the 20th within a decade. And all of this was done by us — by government. FDR’s motivation was straightforward: To create jobs, salaries, in the midst of a devastating Depression. Folks who earned those wages would spend them — first, perhaps, on food and medicine, but then on cars, homes — all the time creating new jobs, creating, in fact, a new middle class.
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