One of the problems we have in this Presidential primary is that we tend to believe the sound bites we hear as the sum total of each candidate’s beliefs and philosophy. That is, of course, not true. I tend to listen to quite a bit of conservative talk radio, and I know that those people have their own agendas, too. Still, even if you’ve watched all the debates – and who would want to, with the infighting? – I think you only have a partial idea of what each candidate stands for.
Example: Newt Gingrich has released the bare bones of his “21st Century Contract with America.” You can find it here. It includes such pro-conservative items as lowering or eliminating many taxes, repealing regulations like Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley, and reforming the Federal Reserve. He was pretty specific in the documents about his plans.
You may disagree with him, but once you’ve read the Contract you at least know more about what the man stands for, instead of hearing people make jokes about “Newt’s crazy idea of a lunar colony.”
As I mentioned in a previous post, Newt actually knows whereof he speaks in regards to the space program from decades of involvement in it, including the Strategic Defense Initiative. We’ve been told for so long now that our space program is in decline and that we couldn’t possibly do such a thing in eight years that people believe it. Too many people think that somehow we were deluded into the race to the Moon by a misguided belief we were “beating the Russians” there. I’ve heard too many times that NASA knew before Apollo 11 that the Russians weren’t racing us to the Moon at all, that it was all a sham, some kind of hustle perpetrated by the “military-industrial complex.” (Thanks, President Eisenhower, for that term.) Of course, they were developing the N-1 giant launch vehicle, but the complexity of the task was too much for them, and each test flight failed. The Saturn V, on the other hand, was launched successfully every time.
The real truth is that we could be back on the Moon in less time than that, with appropriate funding and a belief that the funding level would remain predictable for the next five years. I’d love to believe we could do it in five years, but I think it would take at least six; a couple of years would be required just to rehire all of the personnel and reactivate the facilities.
I think it’s interesting that Lockheed Martin continued to build a simulator for docking the Orion, an Apollo-like space vehicle, and continued to build the prototype vehicle even though they knew the program was dead; and that Boeing continued development of their CST-100 on their own money, and then both continued on the trickles that came out of NASA sort of under the table, as the space agency defied the Administration and Congress citing “previous contract commitments.”
Newt Gingrich is a pretty smart guy. He may have bigger dreams for America than Mitt Romney, but why is that a subject for ridicule? Back in 1979 the “Reagan is stupid” meme was already making its way through the media. Detractors liked to bring up the fact that he was a registered Democrat at one time. People said he was too old. People said he didn’t know enough to be President, and would be in far over his head. People said his wife was plastic, and that he had been divorced and both of those were liabilities. Wasn’t it funny that his supposed naivete actually turned out to be an inspiration to millions of people, not just in the US but in Eastern Europe, the USSR and other places? In fact, the only thing they could say that was positive was that he was “a great communicator.”
Ten years later he was referred to as “The Great Communicator.”
I feel like we’ve decided as a people that we are content to watch our 3D movies, and our football on our widescreen plasma TVs. We’ve decided to lament that China would soon overtake us, but what can we do? We can’t stop them, we have no right to stop them, and we’re a people in decline. The best we can hope for is that our decline is comfortable enough, and that maybe Social Security will last long enough. We’ll die earlier than we expected, because it’s too expensive too keep us alive even though we have the tools to do so.
I felt in 1979 that there was a grayness, a darkness, over the country. We were being told our savings would never recover. Countries in the Middle East did not respect us. Our President talked about a “National Malaise.” America was in decline, and somehow we were supposed to be. We deserved it, after the loss in Vietnam and the scandal of Watergate. We were nothing but trouble for the rest of the world, we were consuming all the resources that belonged rightfully to others, and we were always sticking our nose in where it didn’t belong. We were a nation of undeserving bigots, and everyone hated us.
Then Ronald Wilson Reagan said that none of that was true. We were America – the “shining city on the hill” that other peoples looked to with hope. Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher said things could be better and should be…and people believed. A dockworker named Lech Walesa bravely defied the Communist Polish government and became the first President of a free Poland. It started in 1980, just about the same time as the Presidential election here. The day of Reagan’s inauguration the Iranian government returned American hostages held for 444 days. Gradually, the sun came back up on America.
George H.W. Bush was a good man, but lacked the vision of Reagan. Soon the country knew it, but the changes set in motion during the Reagan years were beginning to bear fruit. We lost our way, of course, and elected a charismatic but irresponsible President. (I won’t even get into the influence of Ross Perot’s third-party run.) Two years later people were beginning to see their folly, and the first House Republican majority in decades was presided over by…Newt Gingrich.
Is he the perfect candidate? Of course not? Will he be able to deliver? That remains to be seen. I just think that he has seen the influence of visionaries and charlatans close up, and he has chosen the less-safe plan. Do we want to continue down the path of decline Obama has put us on? Do we want a competent executive running the country? Or do we want someone with vision to inspire us, to urge us to be better than we already were, to be the inspiration ourselves for the rest of the world?
No, we belittle a man for saying he believes we could be back on the moon in nine years. The first time, with computer technology far less than what we have in our cell phones, we did it in less time than that…from a standing start, after a President challenged us to do it “because it is hard.” Today, we could do it in six. I truly believe that. I hope others do as well.
The power of belief is stronger than we know. If we really think about it, it’s all we’ve had as an edge – a belief we were a unique people, and we had the freedom to do what we set out to. The freedom we enjoyed helped create the optimism and “can-do” attitude that Americans once had in large numbers, and that was rekindled in the 1980s. It can be done again, but it is far easier to do when we have a leader who believes in us, and in American exceptionalism.