What happened to the oomph?
Yet where is the nation's ability to roll up its proverbial sleeves and get the job done?
“It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said astronaut Neil Armstrong as he took his first step on the moon in 1969.
A giant leap for mankind and a mission-accomplished for the United States
Hatched from a plan that began eight years earlier.
“I believe this nation should commit itself to the goal before this decade is out for landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth,” US President John F. Kennedy told Congress on May 25, 1961.
It was a call from a US president that came 50 years ago to this very day, a speech asking Congress to invest in turning fantasy into reality.
It came in the wake of the Cold War, in reaction to the Soviet Union’s success sending a cosmonaut into orbit. It reminded the US, as did Sputnik in 1957, of the stakes in the space race. It inspired NASA an increase in US spending on scientific research and education, and a legacy channeled by leaders in modern day.
“Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon,” US President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union Address earlier this year.
And now the US is faced with the new enemy of economic decline, marked by rampant, long-term, high unemployment, and industries drying up or being shipped overseas. The country is looking for a plan to make one giant leap forward.
“This is our generation's Sputnik moment,” Obama said in his State of the Union speech.
But looking at the current debate in Congress over cutting spending, the bi-partisan bickering over the budget, leaders seem to have no agreement over how to get this country back on track. And while defense is half of the nation’s discretionary spending, the country’s defense and its wars don’t rally the unity they once did, as seen back on this date:
“December 7, 1941,” as president Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in a speech, it was a “date that will live in infamy.”
It was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a date that launched FDR’s calls for production of hundreds of thousands each of planes, tanks, and guns over a few years to fight the war. Factories were converted, and the nation got the job done.
“Let no man say it cannot be done,” FDR told the nation in his 1942 State of the Union Address. “It must be done—and we have undertaken to do it.”
It is a sight unseen in response to today’s challenges.
“I think right now the country is in a state of paralysis and we keep saying someone has to step up and do it,” said Thom Hartmann, host of The Big Picture on RT. “The people coming in building things are the Japanese and the Germans.”
Over the decades the challenges may change but the country has always faced new ones.
“These are extraordinary times and we face an extraordinary challenge,” said JFK in his May 25, 1961 speech to Congress.
The question 50 years after Kennedy said those words is if the country can still rise to meet them.
Christopher Chambers, a lecturer at Georgetown University in Washington said much of the changes in the US stem from the decline of American exceptionalism.
“In the 60’s the media began to chip away at that consensus that this is what we can do, we can get the job done. It was a very cynical time,” he said. “The consensus for doing great things broke down.”
Today, even as people seem to be returning to calls for greatness, the media and the people are too divided and apathetic to accomplish tasks on the same scale they once were. Fragmentation has made it hard to build a true consensus in today’s society. People are too invested in dispute and fractures to get anything accomplished, argued Chambers.
“Something like the Panama Canal right now. We would never be able to pass that because people just have an interest in tearing it down just for the sake of tearing it down,” he remarked.
The people always buy into the media’s message which continues to politically divide Americans – the more division, the less the cooperation. Successes of the past were possible because of consensus cooperation.