Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Audacity of Mediocrity

I have returned from my journeys Northward and had some time on the road to reflect on where we are as a nation. While folks inside the Beltway (which when travelled now would really make you think you live in the Third World) dither about the debt, greatness in our nation is ebbing.

Consider this image:

This is the interior of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, completed in 1897. The building is a testament of a belief in a great nation with a future ahead as bright as the stars. Now admittedly, architecture and building techniques have changed dramatically, but typically these days for a civic building we get something like this:

...with lots of surface parking! But that's another story. This is the architecture of "we're done, stick a fork in it." I get e-mails and comments accusing me of being so anti-government that I prefer utter chaos to any semblance of a legal order. Not true. I want government to stay out of the way of the private sector, but in those areas where they do belong, and preserving the story of our nation a la the Library of Congress, I want them to do it right. The builders of the Library of Congress were conscious of producing something that would be admired for ages - it was hard and expensive, but they succeeded. I want our leaders to set a vision of progress for the nation not pablums about the goodies they will bestow on me if I vote for them.

Consider the following image:

Yes, that is the shuttle Atlantis blasting off for her final voyage earlier this week. There are a lot of issues with the shuttle program, but the fact remains that they were designed to each fly a minimum of 100 missions. Atlantis has flown 33. We have no replacement. It is embarrassing to note that only four astronauts flew on this last mission. Reason? The Soyuz (Russian) craft is the only thing that could fly in the event of an emergency and it only carries three at a time - they have two on stand-by with a pilot per craft.

Shocking, I know for a conservative like me in these times of budget austerity to be getting misty-eyed about the space program, but here's the reality: if we can't get into space, we can't control it. For a nation that relies on satellites for everything from our GPS units that tell us how to get to Grandma's house to watching re-runs of "I Love Lucy," not being able to control space is a frightening proposition. Did I mention that we also use that environment for military intelligence, targeting and scientific exploration? We cannot fight nor defend ourselves without having a space presence. And, wait for it, this is one area where the government DOES need to be involved, because our livelihoods and existence as a nation depend on it. We have recognized from our founding that we are a maritime nation and we have built a Navy to protect and accomodate that. Admittedly, the Fleet is down to Jimmy Carter levels again, but it can still do its job of protecting our commerce at sea and projecting power to the bad guys on an as-needed basis. Space is the ocean of the future and we just chucked our oars into the tall grass.

All of this points to our priorities as a nation. This is where leadership comes in. I find enormous fault with JFK on a lot of fronts from the absence of a moral code to the abandonment of the Cuban rebels in the Bay of Pigs. But I liked his tax policy - "rising tide lifts all boats," and I really liked his challenge to the American people that we would go to the moon. A goal and a vision fulfilled at 20:17:40 UTC, on the 20th of July, 1969. That voyage began here:

The premise laid out by JFK has not changed. All eyes are pointed space-ward...we are staring at our shoes kicking dust. Modern leaders have forgotten that part of the task of leaders is to challenge and coax greatness out of their people. Our current crop just wants to secure the next vote and the end result is the sclerosis that is killing greatness in this land.

The real tragedy is that the eyes of the world are also fixed on us. Peggy Noonan reminisced in a fine column yesterday that the world needed another Ronald Reagan. She scribes this from her recent trip to Europe where Reagan was honored in London, Prague, Krakow and Budapest and rightfully observes:

The world looks to America. It doesn't want to be patronized or dominated by America, it wants to see America as a beacon, an example, a dream of what could be. And the world wants something else: American goodness. It wants to have faith in the knowledge that America is the great nation that tries to think about and act upon right and wrong, and that it is a beacon also of things practical—how to have a sturdy, good, unsoiled economy, how to create jobs that provide livelihoods that allow families to be formed, how to maintain a system in which inventors and innovators can flourish. A world without America in this sense—the beacon, the inspiration, the speaker of truth—would be a world deprived of hopefulness. And so we must be our best selves again not only for us but for the world.

Now Dame Peggy and I have had some serious differences. She was in the "wouldn't an Obama presidency be neat" crowd, but I respect her insights. Reagan saw the big (and very hard) picture - the world would never be safe as long as the Soviet threat existed. He knew we had to build up our military and push our technology to the limit to defeat the "Evil Empire." Everyone said it couldn't be done.

A second column in the same section titled "China Versus America: Which Is The Developing Country," pointed out the pristine status of China's infrastructure to ours. It's a LOT short sighted as it avoids the point that when you get outside of China's coastal region you descend about 400 years in time and the idea of 5-Year plans didn't turn out so well in other Communist states. But I will give the Chinese this: they have their priorities right. Instead of trying to provide every form of gimme to their people, they are focused on creating jobs and building world class infrastructure.

We, on the other hand, are busy rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic with piddling discussions of cutting here and there and taxing more and more while the Public Sector union cancer erodes us from the inside. (How would you like to get paid $5600 a month to wash your motorcycle?) The problem is not that the government doesn't collect enough revenue - it is that we are spending it on the wrong stuff and there is no mobilizing force of leadership to steer us onto the right path.

Here's what I would like to see:

1. Recommitment to the space program with the goal of returning to the moon in 5 years.
2. Restoration of existing infrastructure around the country. Let's fix what we have first and then look into building high-speed rail and such.
3. Rebuild and modernize our military stet. Our operational commitments have strained everything from men to materiel.
4. A crash program - Apollo project? - to make us energy independent. The green stuff is all well and good, but let's be honest...there is no replacement for the gas engine that is feasible. If one comes along, fine, but in the mean time, let's drill AND refine our own oil.

How are we going to do this - after all, it can't be done!

1. A national commitment to these programs will draw private sector capital in and create jobs!
2. We will HAVE to cut, trim, eliminate (especially Obamacare) entitlement programs. A great nation should have a safety net for the less fortunate - but it should also inspire people to greatness not bully them into redistribution and mediocrity.
3. Dismantle the regulatory beast of the government - from EPA to OSHA to silliness like the Dodd-Frank Bill, we need to spend our money on the things we need not the "nice to haves," that grow into budget devouring cancers.
4. Eliminate outright those departments that are not mandated by the Constitution: Department of Energy, Department of Education, etc.

We are going to have to grow a leader that is willing to tell the American people the truth. Ronald Reagan, one speaker in London said last week, "did not move to the center to get votes. He moved the center to him." We are still a great nation, the world is counting on us, we are only in decline if we allow ourselves to believe that we are. Obama and his professorial crowd have done much to convince us that we have past our aegis. We have not, we just need someone to step forward and remind us.


Anonymous said...

One must point out that one of the current frontrunners for the GOP nomination, Bachmann, is a young-earth creationist. NASA's core mission (to increase our understanding of the universe, more or less) is anathema to people who think the world was sneezed into existence by Magic Sky Father a few thousand years ago. If you believe, as I do, in American eceptionalism, and want to see real investment in the future of... well, humanity's future... who are you going to vote for? If it comes right down to it, are you on the side of applied research, or the side of fundamentalist dogma? Will you vote against the GOP candidate if it is a religious lunatic who doesnt believe in science?

Scary times, when the choice is shaping up to be between Obama, with all that entails, and the Bachmann/Palin/etc archetypes who if anything are even scarier... ugh. NASA is hosed either way. Hooray for the future...

Rumbler said...

Interesting take - of course the current Administration believes NASA's core mission is to improve Muslim self-esteem. Nevertheless, people of faith can also believe in science. There is an old adage about the scientists climbing the mountain of they approach the summit and part the clouds, a crowd of theologians greets them and asks them what took so long.

I am a passionate backyard astronomer who carefully catalogues my observations, but no amount of scientific inquiry can take away my wonderment of the divine when I stare into space. Bottom line - I think NASA would do better with someone of faith and vision in the Oval Office versus an occupant like the current one who believes our best days are gone.