Today is the 40th
anniversary of the day man first walked on the moon. I'm sure everyone who was
alive then knows where he or she was when the live, grainy black and white video
showed two men first climbing down a ladder and jumping onto the moon. It was a
triumphant day, to be sure, for all of humanity. I know how cool it was to a dorky 11 year old kid who was an absolute space freak. I was excited by the space program. I watched every liftoff and every splashdown; I knew the name of every astronaut, and for a while, I could tell you which astronauts flew in every single Mercury, Gemini and Apollo mission. Here's a strange thing, though; I was never really into science fiction and fantasy to any great degree, even back then. I was astounded by what human beings were capable of when they put their mind to it, and put their nose to the grindstone to solve all of the problems related to doing something incredible. The space program made one proud to be an American, but more than
that, it made one proud to be a human being. No other species has the capacity to think about and solve problems to the extent humans do.
And yet, 40 years later, Americans seem to have forgotten that. The day we walked on the moon seems to have marked the exact moment
that the United States gave up.
It was as if we proved to the world that we were the greatest,
technologically advanced society in the history of the world, and then
stopped right then, at that moment.
Compare who we
were then with what we've become, and we have to ask; whatever
happened to that "can-do" American spirit? Why have we gone from
gung-ho idealists, capable of solving any problem, to a country of naysayers,
who can't seem to solve problems without tearing ourselves apart in the
process? In the forty years from 1929 to 1969, we solved the problems of an economic system that had once caused us to slide into Depression on a regular basis; we wired almost every home in the country with electricity; we created an infrastructure that was the envy of the world; we created an educational system that turned us from a largely illiterate society into a literate one; we made it possible for everyone who wanted to, to go to college; we created a mortgage system that allowed everyone who could afford one to buy a home; and we became the preeminent manufacturing power in the world. Between 1929 to 1969, a span of 40 years, we went from one of the most devastated nations in the world to being the premier economic superpower in the world. And we did it through sheer force of will.
The culmination came in 1969. With technology that wouldn't even allow the video coming from the moon to be
shown in color, we solved a series of potential problems, and
sent two men to the surface of the moon, to walk on
it, and got them back safely.
Look at what's happened in the subsequent 40 years. We've shipped
almost all of our manufacturing overseas, and we make almost nothing that has an American name on it, and we have
pretty much given up on the prospect of ever competing with the rest of the
world. We have gone from being the largest creditor nation in the world to
being the largest debtor nation in the world. We're more addicted to oil than
ever before, and more dependent on others for it than at any other time in our
history, despite the fact that technology exists to free ourselves from that
addiction and dependence. And we are the only country in the industrialized
world (although I guess we're more post-industrialized these days) that hasn't
managed to cover everyone with health insurance.
What is it that has made us into a "can't-do" nation? Compare the technological marvel that is a voyage to the moon and
back in 1969, with the technological simplicity of switching much of our electrical generation to solar, wind, geothermal and tidal power.
What the hell is our problem? We once saw something we wanted to do, we saw the
problems inherent in doing that, and we sought to overcome them to get the job
done. Now, we seem to throw our hands in the air and bitch about the cost
when we're confronted with a problem.
Look, folks; some
costs are worth it. As a society, we must make investments. Spending a decent amount of
money on education right now makes us a better nation going forward. If we'd
been serious about it and invested in conservation years
ago, then $4-per-gallon gas wouldn't have hit us so hard, and we'd be at the
forefront of solar and wind technology, instead of looking to play catch-up.
We used to lead the
world in everything; now, we're not even following anyone very well.
The difference, of
course, is in leadership. From Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, we were both blessed and cursed with leaders who were unafraid to invest in the future, and the country was better
off for it. We saw challenges everywhere, and we met them. But beginning with
Richard Nixon, we started to change. It is a truism about neocons, folks; they see the cost of everything and the value of nothing. And though Richard Nixon was a less-virulent strain of neocon, he still had that disease.
All of a sudden, with the dawn of the neocon era, the dollar cost of everything
became more important than investment value for society. Think about it; in
1973, the Arab Oil Embargo gave us our first "oil crisis." Nixon's
response was pretty much no response at all. He let us sit in long lines, and
then implemented a "banking system," through which he gave oil companies
financial incentives to keep gasoline prices artificially low, while the price of everything else was pushed sky high. He didn't lead us out of a problem; he simply pretended there was no problem.
His response to high inflation was to freeze wages and prices for 90 days. Ford
fought inflation with WIN buttons.Reagan was handed lower inflation, and proceeded to cut taxes and gut programs that were working, at the same time he was setting a trend for borrowing money that was to become a serious problem.
And so it went. From
Nixon through Bush Junior, our leadership has not only failed to require anything of
us, they also stripped us of the infrastructure that had once made us
great. (I reluctantly include Carter and
Clinton in that group, although to a lesser extent. Carter was actually the
architect of the strategy that ended rampant inflation, and Clinton took huge
steps to bring manufacturing back to the United States, and got the deficit under control. But overall, they did
little to help us solve our greatest problems.) Americans are less educated than we were; they're less self-sufficient than we were; they wallow in ignorance to a greater extent than they used to; it is far more difficult for an average American to come up with an idea and bring it to the marketplace; and to a person we are largely in debt up to our eyeballs. And while we have made great sociological strides, these strides seem to have been made in spite of the leadership, not because of it. Now imagine what we could have done with strong leadership.
One of the reasons
President Obama seems like such a breath of fresh air in the leadership is
because he's actually challenging people for the first time in ages. He's not doing everything for us; he's challenging
us to make things happen.
We have to recapture the spirit that sent us to the moon and
back, because it's the same spirit that brought us universal public education and the prosperity we all remember as kids. American leadership over the last 40 years has led us down the wrong
path, and it's time we got back on the right one; the path that made us great in
the first place. We need politicians in
office who are not afraid of doing the right thing, and that takes our help. We
have to demand more from the politicians we have, and if they don't deliver, we
should toss them out on their asses and get new ones.
Why can't we
manufacture goods? Sure, we can't make a spatula or a pair of tongs that can sell for a
dollar and break in a year, but we can make one that sells for $5 and lasts for
ten years. We could still make the best affordable cars on the road, if we
wanted to. This concept that people will only buy the cheapest-priced crap on the market
ignores the fact that, in every grocery store, quality name brands still
out-sell store brands and generics. For every person who goes to the dollar
store and walks out with a bag full of crap, there are five who walk out of the
dollar store with nothing, because it’s all crap.
Why can't we wean
ourselves from oil and in the process,teach other countries how it's done?
We can't afford to play around anymore, and keep driving gas guzzlers because we can; we have no choice but to adopt an alternative
fuel scheme. Wind and solar technologies are being adopted all over the rest of the world,
and our politicians just sit on their hands, and whine about the cost. No
more whining; we're Americans, dammit!
Why can't we create
a universal health insurance system, whereby anyone in this country who gets sick or injured gets treatment, without having to worry about it. I mean,
every other industrialized nation in the world has this, and yet our politicians
are telling us such a thing is impossible. It's not impossible; it's absolutely
necessary. If there are aspects of other systems that are imperfect, then we improve upon them. That's what we do! We're American, for Chrissakes! Instead of listening to politicians tell us what we can't do and staying in office, perhaps it's time to start reminding them that, if they can't do something, we can elect someone who can.
Forty years ago, we
capped an eight-year mission to land men on the moon and bring them back to
earth safely, and we did so successfully. While we were working on that, we
brought civil rights and voting rights to people, and we forced our politicians
to end an insane and immoral war. Now, we see problems that are far more
surmountable, and we cower in fear, and refuse to face the fact that we must
meet them head on and overcome them.
How do we recapture
the spirit that led to an American walking on the moon, and how do we apply
that to the challenges we face today? It's okay to look to President Obama for
leadership. But the fact of the matter is, the
United States put that man on the moon, not any one man. We did it. And
until we once again figure out that we as a people can do anything, I'm afraid
that day is past.
I hope we can figure it out. I want human beings to live up to their potential, not squander it.