Olbermann Blames Iraq War Spending for Bridge Collapse

On Friday's Countdown, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann charged that the "endless war and endless spending" had "crippled our ability to repair or just check our infrastructure," as he hosted Air America's Rachel Maddow in a discussion blaming the Minneapolis bridge collapse on Iraq war spending and unwillingness by conservatives to raise taxes. Olbermann quoted Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar's charge of "messed up priorities" and New York Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter's labeling of bridge collapse victims as "almost victims of war" because "perpetual war depletes the funds available to maintain our infrastructure." Maddow charged that America is "paying this incredible deadly price for a brand of American conservatism that hates and demeans government." (Transcript follows)

Olbermann teased the August 3 show: "The bridges of every county: How the endless war and endless spending crippled our ability to repair or just check our infrastructure."

About 8:20 p.m., after relaying to viewers that Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty had reversed his opposition to raising the gas tax to fund infrastructure projects, Olbermann cited charges by Democrats that Iraq war spending was repsonsible for a lack of bridge repairs. Olbermann: "Earlier today, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar referred to the, quote, 'messed up priorities' by spending half a trillion dollars in Iraq while bridges crumble at home. New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter joined the connection even tighter, calling the bridge victims, quote, 'almost victims of war' because our, quote, 'perpetual war depletes the funds available to maintain our infrastructure.'"

Ignoring the massive amounts of non-war government spending that could be diverted to pay for infrastructure repairs, Olbermann pressed for tax increases to yield the required funding as he implied that conservative views on taxes are not "sane" and "reasoned." Olbermann: "Republicans, including Governor Pawlenty, President Bush, have demonized taxes, demonized any Democrat who ever said tax hike could improve our lives, save our lives at home. Does the governor's reversal tonight suggest maybe somebody is going to start having sane, reasoned discussions about taxes and when they're needed?"

During her response, Maddow charged that America is "paying a deadly price" for anti-government conservatism, even invoking Ronald Reagan. Maddow: "We're a country that, as a whole, is paying this incredible deadly price for a brand of American conservatism that hates and demeans government, and that has defined any sort of spending on anything for the common good as something that's soft-headed and suspect. And it's a brand of conservatism that goes back to, you know, Reagan's first inaugural where he defined government as the problem and to Barry Goldwater before him, and the Republican party right now defines itself as uncritical inheritors of that legacy. And while they may be benefitting from it politically, we're all paying the price for it in terms of a country that's just falling apart. It's a national disgrace."

Below is a transcript of the segment from the Friday August 3 Countdown on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN, in opening teaser: The bridges of every county: How the endless war and endless spending crippled our ability to repair or just check our infrastructure.
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OLBERMANN: But comfort is not all that the city of Minneapolis seeks right now. In addition to the bodies to be found, there is the undiscovered truth, the explanation for how this happened. Tonight, the U.S. Transportation Department announced it will investigate the Federal Highway Administration, the agency which inspected the I-35 W bridge. Questions investigators will consider: whether the agency followed recommendations last year to improve oversight on deficient bridges and the federal funding for them.

OLBERMANN: Governor Tim Pawlenty has called this an engineering issue. We do not know whether his engineers felt constrained by his budgets. But just tonight, a spokesman for the governor announced he will consider raising the state's 20-cent-per-gallon gas tax, an increase he vetoed before, even though the money would have gone to state infrastructure. Earlier today, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar referred to the, quote, "messed up priorities" by spending half a trillion dollars in Iraq while bridges crumble at home. New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter joined the connection even tighter, calling the bridge victims, quote, "almost victims of war" because our, quote, "perpetual war depletes the funds available to maintain our infrastructure." By some estimates, bringing all of America's bridges up to satisfactory condition would take nearly $190 billion. The Iraq war now estimated at costing about half a trillion. It almost takes a Rhodes Scholar to analyze all this. Fortunately, Rachel Maddow is that, and more, including host of her own show every week night on Air America radio. Rachel, great thanks for your time.

RACHEL MADDOW: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Republicans, including Governor Pawlenty, President Bush, have demonized taxes, demonized any Democrat who ever said tax hike could improve our lives, save our lives at home. Does the governor's reversal tonight suggest maybe somebody is going to start having sane, reasoned discussions about taxes and when they're needed?

MADDOW: I hope so. I really do. But I have to tell you I'm just so steamed about this, and everybody who I've talked to about it this week in my personal life and on the radio, everybody that I know who I've talked to about this is steamed as well because there aren't Republican bridges and there aren't Democratic bridges and there aren't Republican sewers and Democratic levees. We're a country that, as a whole, is paying this incredible deadly price for a brand of American conservatism that hates and demeans government, and that has defined any sort of spending on anything for the common good as something that's soft-headed and suspect. And it's a brand of conservatism that goes back to, you know, Reagan's first inaugural where he defined government as the problem and to Barry Goldwater before him, and the Republican party right now defines itself as uncritical inheritors of that legacy. And while they may be benefitting from it politically, we're all paying the price for it in terms of a country that's just falling apart. It's a national disgrace. And I hope the governor's change of heart is a sign of a change in it, but the fact that the President this week still used an anti-tax, anti-government piece of rhetoric to explain why he's going to veto kids' health insurance and why he's going to veto waste water infrastructure bills doesn't make me feel like it's going to change any time soon in that party.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, that was a privately owned bridge now, in which the owners were threatening to move the bridge to another state. They'd be able to get the tax money under those circumstances.

MADDOW: Sure.

OLBERMANN: But is it fair, is it premature to blame spending shortfalls for this when the state rates so well on its bridges in Minnesota? And we have no evidence at this point that anyone, any organization warned that the 35W was in anything resembling imminent trouble or needed more money than it was getting for upkeep.

MADDOW: Well, that's the single scariest thing about that, is that Minnesota fares so well compared to the rest of the country in terms of its infrastructure and its upkeep. That's the scariest thing. The fact that a major bridge like this carrying between 140 and 180,000 cars a day can be rated at 50 percent structurally sufficient, and that doesn't slate it for replacement or major repairs, because compared to what else we've got going on in the country, that actually means it's looking pretty good. That's the scariest element of all of this. If you only look, if you only look at bridges that carry 190,000 cars a day, there are at least 20 that rate worse than that bridge that collapsed in terms of their structural sufficiency. Minnesota is actually looking good. They're trying to define this as an anomaly. It's the scariest part of all of it.

OLBERMANN: Right. You're right. If this is the leadership state and its bridge has fallen down, what happens to the 50th ranked state?

MADDOW: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: But now the White House wants all the states to shoulder as much of the burden of government and governance as possible. Is that some sort of variety or mutation of a push for small government, the original principled idea, or an attempt to disperse accountability so that, you know, corporations and contractors and such can get to the public trough more easily? What is it?

MADDOW: Well, I think it's a way to deflect accountability for this specific crisis on one hand. But it also denies the historical truth in the United States that 80 percent of highway money comes from the federal government, and this government would like it to seem like this is some sort of state problem. The initial response immediately from the White House was, well, the state's responsibility was to maintain that bridge, and they should have known about it, and it was their responsibility to act. No. The federal government is 80 percent responsible historically for highway funding in this country. And to have an anti-government demeaning government, demeaning of any spending on the public good, bit of rhetoric coming out from the White House on the very week that this interstate collapsed tells me that all they're planning on doing is deflecting, deflecting, deflecting the responsibility.