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'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation's Sputnik moment.But how do you have Sputnik without Sputnik? The Soviets launching their satellite shocked Americans into a period of intense activity and achievement. It's nice to want to do that again, but there's not an equivalent incentivizing advance by an imposing and feared foreign competitor.
This is our generation's Sputnik moment. What is? Are we playing let's pretend? Nothing is scaring us and lighting a fire under us. In fact, it's hard for us now, with our long perspective, even to understand why Sputnik was such a huge motivation. Ask some under-50 Americans today: Why was it so important to beat the Soviets in sending men to the moon? Ask them when/if the Soviets got a man to the moon. I'll bet they can't even give plausible answers. I'll bet even the over-50s are hit-or-miss when it comes to answering the question whether the Soviets got a man to the moon.
So what on earth — or on the moon — does Obama think he will get out of the mere verbal tag "Sputnik"? If you remember how Sputnik felt — and I do — you'll probably say, but there is no equivalent of Sputnik. There are just a lot of countries, full of human beings, trying to get ahead economically, like us — not against us. There's no race with dramatic consequences for the winners and losers, and there's no impressive physical object that signifies that bad guys are winning the race. If you don't remember Sputnik, you're like: Sputnik?
Bonus Bob Dylan lyric:
Well, I don’t know, but I’ve been told
The streets in heaven are lined with gold
I ask you how things could get much worse
If the Russians happen to get up there first
Wowee! pretty scary!
Now, I’m liberal, but to a degree
I want ev’rybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I’m crazy!
I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba