First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.
Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House.
Meanwhile, Jim Geraghty notes we’ve had other Sputnik and moon-landing moments, and when the deadline wasn’t met, the media quietly moved on, lest they embarrass a Democratic icon:
One of the cheapest and easiest ways for a president to garner short-lived headlines praising his oh-so-inspiring vision is to “challenge” the American people to do great things. I doubt you remember this:
WASHINGTON, May 17, 1997 — In a speech meant to echo John F. Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to the nation to put a man on the moon ‘’before this decade is out,’’ President Clinton plans to use a commencement address on Sunday to call for scientists to develop an AIDS vaccine within the next 10 years.
As if AIDS researchers needed a president to “challenge” them to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. “Say, fellas, let’s skip the coffee break; Clinton’s thrown down the gauntlet in front of us.” What made the Kennedy challenge memorable is that it was actually achieved. In 2007, few if any went back and realized that the deadline had passed and Clinton’s “challenge” generated little beyond a favorable news cycle.
Without any concrete, detailed plans, most presidential challenges amount to high-profile, loudly applauded wishes. Somehow Obama will freeze spending and then throw more money at all of these goals, and then somehow . . . your car will run on sunlight and water, your electricity will come cheaply from those super-efficient nuclear facilities, and you’ll hop on a train that outraces commuter jets.
Good luck with that, Matt Welch writes at Reason:
Over at The American Spectator, Philip Klein points out the many similarities between President Obama’s listless blueprint last night for “Winning the Future” and former president Bill Clinton’s ballyhooed “bridge to the 21st century.” Sample:
“So tonight, let us resolve to build that bridge to the 21st century, to meet our challenges and protect our values,” Clinton said in his acceptance speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
In his State of the Union address last night, Obama said, “So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.”
Is there a more flaccid verb in the English language than “redouble”? Calls to mind some grim, Hugh Hefner-style vacuum device….
Recognizing that I am hardly the average viewer here, I was struck last night by how tired, even sad, the whole spectacle was. It’s 2011, and we’re still talking about building bridges to the 21st century? Five years after George Dubya Whathisname used his SOTU to launch the instantly forgotten (but nevertheless signed into law!) American Competitiveness Initiative, we’re launching a spanking new competitiveness initiative? Gonna get off that foreign oil, build that clean energy, and invest in our kids’ education, just like we promised every January stretching back to Richard Nixon? And as someone (I forget who) pointed out on Twitter, 54 years after a country that hasn’t existed for two decades put a satellite into space, we’re still using moonshots as the go-to metaphor for all the lofty presidential goals no one remotely believes will ever come true.
Which brings us back to the Commentary post from Ted Bromund we started with:
I sometimes get the sense that the left doesn’t realize that 1890-2010 has already happened. A rule of life is that you can only do things for the first time once. We’ve tried the Progressive, administrative state, and have been trying it for years: its deficiencies are not going to be fixed by pretending in an “Ah ha!” moment that what we need is more administration. We’ve been trying Keynesianism almost continuously since the 1940s and even before the recession were at levels of government spending that Keynes experienced only during World War II: the idea that Keynes offers some sort of untried miracle cure is, to be nice about it, a fantasy. Since 1970, as Andrew Coulson points out, federal spending adjusted for inflation has increased by 190 percent, with no gains in reading, math, or science scores to show for it. None of these ideas are new. On the contrary: they are very, very old.
And lets face it, even the best reruns get tired after you’ve seen them two or three times: