Last week, our campaigner in Chief Barack Obama gave a notorious “Golden Gate” speech about America’s failings. The speech has been likened to Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech. The tagline of the lecture Obama gives is:
“We’ve lost our ambition, our — our imagination, and — and — our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge…” Barack Obama, 2011.
He was likening our failing ability to get things done as a people unwilling to commit to big Federal projects. The problem is the Golden Gate Bridge was not one of them.
In fact, it was the ‘One Percenters’, as is the term coined of the rich and powerful these days, that built the Golden Gate, not government. More importantly, it was government that posed more obstacles for the building of the bridge than any other entity and if the Department of Defense had their way it never would have been built at all.
Some basic research into the building of the bridge indicated that the original architect of the bridge, Joseph Strauss (who also designed a bridge to be built over the Bering Strait) faced numerous obstacles from government after his original proposal to them in 1921. Several years earlier the government had done a study about building a bridge in those waters and had come to the conclusion that it was impossible to build a bridge from the city to Marin County. San Francisco City Engineer Michael O’Shaughnessy had requested the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey to make soundings of the channel bottom. The U.S.S. Natoma completed the sounding of the channel in May 1920, and after receiving the Natoma’s survey data, O’Shaughnessy consults engineers from around the country about feasibility and cost. Many say it cannot be done, and if it can be the cost would exceed $100 million. The idea was then shelved until Strauss comes forward with his design.
O’Shaughnessy, Strauss and others form a special commission to look into the building of the bridge. It takes them years of wrangling with the government until 1923 when they finally get the state to agree to a meeting in Santa Rosa to finally decide the feasibility of the bridge. The Department of Defense (then called the Department of War) kicked and screamed saying that the bridge would be dangerous and block the channel from ships going in an out of the Presidio base. Since the DOD owned the land on either side of the channel, there was no way to build it without Federal approval, and they refused to grant it.
After another year of wrangling, and some heavy support from the fledgling automotive industry lobbying (yes, they had lobbyists back then too), the DOD finally relents and allows construction of the bridge, but only sells the land back to the state commission and does not participate in its construction.
Construction did not go as smoothly as planned. It takes another FIVE years for the government and the architects to come to agreement on the design. Furthermore, Federal contractor unions wanted the contracts to build the bridge and stalled the government on the issue, demanding they take action to halt construction unless they got the contract. Fortunately, local authorities insisted that as part of the contract only local labor would be used instead of Federal union contracts, insuring the area had work during Depression era unemployment.
A second problem in 1929 when the US Stock Market collapsed made for more problems. The Golden Gate committee now has trouble issuing the bond needed for the construction of the bridge, even though the citizens of the surrounding area had put up their own personal lands and farms as collateral. It takes 3 more years and the wealthy President and founder of Bank of America, A.P. Giannini, to personally buy the 35 million dollar bond which he then finances through the bank. Without the bank and the intervention of private industry fueled by personal wealth, again the bridge would not have been built. By 1937 the bridge is completed—and Strauss delivers the bridge 1.7 million UNDER budget, using local non-union labor and private contractors.
The Golden Gate Bridge is not a symbol of government planning or a government project—it is a bridge built DESPITE government setbacks and government intervention and is the sole achievement of individuals working in and with the private sector to overcome these obstacles.
The worst part is that Obama never figured that out when he either wrote or was handed that speech. Anyone with a good understanding of what built this nation would have immediately rejected that sentence out of hand, but Obama embraced it with relish. Why? Because of his natural distaste for private industry and his liberal sensibilities which have overcome his love of country.
The telling part of this speech was not Obama’s love of Federal planning and projects as has been expounded upon by many pundits, but of his hate of American capitalism and what made America great—the strength of individual achievement and private industry, not government.
One last thing– the DOD wanted the bridge painted black with yellow stripes instead of International Orange. They still considered it a safety hazard after it was built.
Sources: The Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District
U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration
TIME magazine biography of A.P Giannini
For more reading on the Golden Gate Bridge: Wikipedia on the Golden Gate Bridge as well as above sources.