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November 21, 2014

Wyden Channels ‘Portlandia’ at Senate Finance | Madisonville

Wyden Channels Portlandia at Senate Finance | Madisonville

The country’s roads and cars are a rich source of invention in our language, not to mention our music, literature and movies. You can find something for any purpose: living in the fast lane, moving on cruise control, running on empty, pedal to the metal, firing on all cylinders, asleep at the wheel, buckle up, we’re in for a rough ride, speed bump, my way or the highway, back-seat driver, one for the road, green light, bump in the road, hit the brakes, road kill, deer in the headlights, red light.

So when Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, holds a hearing about the depleted Highway Trust Fund — the biggest single source of funding for the nation’s roads — you expect him to find language to do justice to the cause.

“My bottom line is that you can’t have a big-league quality of life with little-league infrastructure,” Wyden said to open the hearing Tuesday.

A baseball metaphor? Little League? This is Wyden’s way of warning about potholes and deficient bridges? Either the country’s demography has changed far more than anybody realizes or Wyden is the senator from “Portlandia” — maybe both.

If ever a metaphor wasn’t built for purpose, this was it. Jack Kerouac didn’t write “On the First Base Line.” Bob Dylan didn’t sing “Right Field Revisited.” This was the Manchurian candidate of metaphors, a sleeper agent placed to betray the cause it was seemingly deployed to help. You could almost hear the air going out of the builders in the room.

California Democrat Barbara Boxer tried melodrama. Boxer is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and she appeared at Senate Finance to rally the panel members to support long-term transportation legislation. She happens to be sponsoring some.

Members of Senate Finance seemed spellbound by Boxer. She didn’t say anything she hasn’t said before, so they must have been mesmerized by her attempt to blend in with the civilians. They couldn’t take their eyes off her. Boxer would get less attention if she showed up to her own committee dressed as Sally Bowles.

“I’m just so happy to be here and I want to speak straight from the heart,” she said.

“You work here” was the obvious retort and may have broken the spell. But nobody said it.

“Failure is not an option,” she said. If you have to say it isn’t, it is.

Democrat Debbie Stabenow didn’t like it when one witness said roads and bridges aren’t that bad. She invited him to Michigan to have a look. There are missing person reports from people falling into potholes, she said. “We have yet to find them.”

That’s how you talk about bad roads.

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