Matching Our Ancestors’ Vision

WAMC Northeast Public Radio for July 1 2009

Dr. Steven Leibo is a professor of International History & Politics at the Sage Colleges

click here for WAMC Audio for “Matching our Ancestors’ Vision

Just recently, I found myself entertaining a friend from college, a guy I had gotten to know in the dorms maybe 40 years ago. And, like most local residents facing the visit of an out of state friend we set off to explore our wonderful Hudson Valley.

Starting with the one thing every American, regardless of their origins has heard of, the good old Erie Canal, that enormously impressive early nineteenth century project whose construction so stimulated the economy of the state in the years after it was built.

Viewing its beautiful surroundings while learning all about Dewitt Clinton’s role in an earlier New York State government to help bring together the legislative structure and government financial support necessary to bring the project to fruition.

A project that employed New Yorkers back in the early 19th century and provided facilities we still use today in the 21st Eventually ending up at Hyde Park where my friend and I explored FDR’s legacy. Learning even more than we already knew about all those visionary FDR’s era New Deal Depression projects Wonderful accomplishments from the Triborough Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel to the Grand Cooley Damn in Washington State. Projects that employed the folks of their era; those suffering through what we just missed by the skin of our teeth a genuine worldwide depression.

Yes, visionary projects that still nurture our economy and supply the energy that feeds today’s generations like the extraordinary Tennessee Valley Energy Authority – visionary projects that kept depression era people working even as they opened up new economic engines for their descendants; those of us living today. Efforts that that would help spur the economy for generations to come.

Sure, Clinton had his enemies, small-minded folks lacking vision who merely saw what they called Clinton’s Ditch while generations later FDR had his own detractors who hated “that man” as they called him.

Visionless people who failed to understand the financial and legislative powers of governments to stimulate the employment of people today while generating the economies of the future.

After all, does anyone alive today care what the Erie Canal or the Lincoln Tunnel originally coast?

Which is why I do not understand all those folks out there who continue to whine about our government’s potential role in helping us make the transition to a new safer energy future.

People who are afraid to use the creative power of government, as our ancestors once did to employ the present to build the future. Tea drinking folks who dishonor our ancestors and fail our descendants—people who can’t understand the role of government in stimulating major economic transitions that market based forces –given their need for more immediate profits so often fail

So what is the problem? Were our ancestors somehow giants and we today merely shadows of our past? Frightened people so afraid of losing the American dream they have abandoned the vision that created it.

Why are we are not living up to the teachings of our ancestors? Why are we stuck taking little bitty steps. When our challenge is as big as the original 18th century industrial revolution; to find newer safer energy sources.

Sources that won’t destroy our world like that pornographic hemorrhage in the Gulf or the emerging challenge of fossil fuel driven climate change.

But, not everyone is failing that generational test. In fact, right now here in Albany this very week in New York’s Capital and in Washington among the feds. Senators at the state and federal levels are working on that new energy future. Working right now to live up to our ancestors’ visions but as we so often hear we live in a democracy.

Those senators in Albany and in Washington can’t do it alone. No, they need you to immediately call their offices and encourage them in their great effort to build us a new energy future. To remind them that now is the moment when our generation must match the accomplishments of our ancestors by nurturing the future for our descendants

About Steven Leibo

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