Liberals love Ray LaHood because he is the type of Republican who wants government to control more of American life. When President Obama named him secretary of transportation, it was not so much an act of bipartisanship as an expression of ideological solidarity.
About a month into his tenure, LaHood told the Associated Press that the administration should consider taxing people for every mile they drive their car, a system that would require tracking people's movements.
"We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled," he said. "What I see this administration doing is this -- thinking outside the box on how we fund our infrastructure in America."
LaHood's Big Brother-like suggestion proved too much even for Obama, who had just pushed a $787 billion stimulus law through Congress and was preparing to start an ambitious campaign to enact a national health program. Within 24 hours, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters the president would not back the driver-tracking plan.
As we shall see, however, the president would back other ideas LaHood had for controlling how people move.
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In LaHood's view, the transportation secretary's highest duty was not to build highways and facilitate freedom of movement, but to use government to change the way people live. Early on, he announced what he called a "livability initiative" and formed a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at creating "sustainable communities." As Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation observed, the partnership LaHood's department formed with HUD, together with a rhetorical attack unleashed by President Obama on suburban "sprawl," seemed to indicate the administration's "intent to re-energize and lead the Left's longstanding war against America's suburbs."
LaHood first described what he had in mind using benign-sounding words in testimony given to the House subcommittee that allocates gas tax money.
"If a large share of the traveling public could walk or bike for short trips, it is estimated that the nation could save over one million gallons of gas and millions of dollars in motor fuel costs per day," he said. "Transit-oriented development also has the potential to contribute significantly to the revitalization of downtown districts, foster walkable neighborhoods, and offer an alternative to urban and suburban sprawl and automobile-focused commuting."
The administration, he conceded, wanted to "influence how people choose to travel." But their goal was to increase the "independence" of those who do not drive rather than limit the independence of those who do.
In a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club a few days later, LaHood defiantly restated his intention to use government to stop people from driving.
"Some in the highway supporters and motorists groups have been concerned by your livability initiative," said the moderator, reading a reporter's question. "Is this an effort to make driving more torturous and to coerce people out of their cars?"
"It is a way to coerce people out of their cars, yeah. ..." LaHood said.
Terry Jeffrey, editor in chief of CNSNews.com, is author of "Control Freaks: 7 Ways Liberals Plan To Ruin Your Life," from which this article is adapted.