Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment has ignited quite a debate, and has brought to the forefront the term “American System.” James Pinkerton covers the debate well here, although I don’t agree totally with his take.
Those of us who have been involved in the renewed debate over the virtues of Lincoln are well aware of the term “American System” as one of the chief criticism of Lincoln by his new antagonists is that he essentially remained a Henry Clay style Whig intent on advancing Clay’s “American Sytem,” which is why he couldn’t let the South leave. (I would date this “renewed” debate to the publication of Thomas DiLorenzo’s first Lincoln book because this was one of DiLorenzo’s main themes.) So I was a bit surprised that this terminology seemed new to so many people, but I guess if you haven’t been following the Lincoln debate it could be.
Of course for conservatives and constitutionalist, the “American Sytem” is un-American. (It is probably more accurate albeit less alliterative to call it un-Constitutional rather than un-American because violating the Constitution has unfortunately been a feature of American reality from nearly the beginning.) According to the Constitution there should be virtually no federal infrastructure. Roads and bridges are a state and local concern.
(Of course there is always the issue of what was intended and authorized by the term “post roads” in the Constitution, but the defenders of the interstate highway system did not even try to justify it on the basis of “post roads,” but rather on national defense grounds.)