What happened
Warning that the U.S. economy will get worse before it improves, President-elect Barack Obama said he will push to enact the largest public-works program since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s. The program, whose cost he declined to estimate, would include road and bridge projects as well as upgrading U.S. energy, education, and technology infrastructure. (The New York Times)

What the commentators said
Like Franklin Roosevelt, Obama is inheriting an economic crisis and proposing “his own New Deal” to fix it, said William Rees-Mogg in The Times of London. And like FDR, “Obama has realized that the president’s strongest weapon is his relationship with the public.” As Obama sells his plan to the public, his webcasts, like FDR’s “fireside chats,” will be “his real power.”

“Obama invokes both FDR and Eisenhower in his new program,” said Ed Morrissey in Hot Air, but the “key difference” between Obama’s plan and Ike’s interstate highway program is that Eisenhower “could afford that public works project.” Obama, inheriting tens of trillions in federal debt and future entitlements, can’t.

“We conservatives” have some “legitimate worries” about massive public-works projects, said Emil Henry Jr. in The Washington Post, but there’s a “bigger point: Our infrastructure needs are at a critical juncture.” Like private companies, the U.S. won’t be competitive unless it invests in its future. Still, conservatives can make sure Obama taps “private capital and expertise.”

Actually, the biggest determinant of success in public-works programs, said Nicole Gelinas in The Wall Street Journal, is “leadership and competence at all levels of government.” Some needed projects are too big and complex to trust to private contractors—think Boston’s Big Dig. “In public infrastructure, the word ‘public’ is there for a reason.”