by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The bimonthly magazine associated with The History Channel rarely strikes this reader as particularly political, which is why the timing of the latest cover story is particularly interesting.
Sure, the article is designed to promote the cable channel’s new miniseries, “The Men Who Built America,” which is scheduled for October. But the timing of both the article and the miniseries is sure to raise some eyebrows in the wake of the flap over the president’s recent “you didn’t build that” speech.
The article’s subheadline proclaims: “A new HISTORY series profiles the men whose imagination, daring, foresight — and some shenanigans — made the United States the economic power it is today.”
“You mean the nation’s economic power wasn’t all based on government-sponsored roads and bridges?” you ask. It’s funny you should mention bridges. Here’s the opening of Kim Gilmore’s article:
All eyes were on the elephant as it ambled across the St. Louis Bridge. The longest arch bridge in the world at the time, it stretched gracefully across the Mississippi River. The pageantry that accompanied the completion of the spectacular structure was matched with an equal amount of anxiety. Careers and reputations, not to mention lives, were on the line through the construction process. Over budget and months past its deadline, the bridge was among the most massive American construction projects to date. When it officially opened in 1874, less than a decade after the end of the Civil War, the bridge was important both practically and symbolically. The success of such projects could show that the United States was back, and open for business.
The man who provided the steel for the bridge, Andrew Carnegie, was a rising industrialist. His reputation seemed like it might rise or fall on the outcome of the project. With so many people skeptical of such a massive bridge, the “test elephant” was sent across to bring peace of mind to the American public that its structure was sound. The elephant survived the test — and so, too, did Carnegie. He would go on to become one of the nation’s foremost business tycoons, having transformed himself from a young Scottish immigrant to a corporate leader and philanthropist whose name still echoes prominently throughout American society today.
One wonders how Mr. Carnegie might have reacted to a politician telling him that he “didn’t build that.”