There’s been a lot of puzzling over what, exactly, President Obama meant with his State of the Union metaphor that “This is our generations’s Sputnik moment.” The original Sputnik was no abstraction. It was specific. The Soviets launched a satellite, and America went into crisis mode to win the space race. So what, exactly, is this modern Sputnik menace that Obama is summoning us all to subdue? Global economic competition? Rogue states going nuclear? Foreigners cornering the solar panel industry?
Nope. I think it had nothing directly to do with any of that. Even with presidents, it’s a pretty good rule that when someone says something vaguely off the wall, he’s probably talking about himself, or maybe even to himself. Look at it that way, and his metaphor makes perfect sense. Obama, possibly for the first time in his life, just had his own Sputnik moment. It wasn’t abstract, it didn’t involve China building new airports, or South Korea installing more per capita wifi. What dread Sputnik just went up on Obama’s watch? Why, of course: The rise of the Tea Party, and the November 2, 2010 election.