Romney’s lunar-landing reference beyond ironic

The 1969 moon landing was an example of American collectivism at its best, the antithesis of what the Republican Party stands for in 2012. Photo courtesy NASA.

Opinion: Space program driven by a vision for the common good of mankind

By Bob Berwyn

If I were to give Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt after his acceptance speech, I would say his reference to the moon landing was a plea for national unity on crucial issues, or an appeal to find common ground to move ahead toward goals all Americans can support.

But in reality, the lines were inserted by his committee of speech writers as a grasping reference to current events. And Romney managed to turn even this shining example of the American can-do spirit at its best into a shrill pitch for nationalism and American exceptionalism.

And it’s beyond ironic that he chose the space program, which illustrates American collectivism at its best — not to mention that it was initiated by a president who would repudiate nearly all of Romney’s notions of what it means to be American.

When Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins rode that Saturn V rocket out of the Earth’s atmosphere on a pillar of fire, when Aldrin maneuvered the Eagle lander into lunar orbit, and when Armstrong took that first step, they were building on the work of thousands of men and women, some working for the government, some for private aerospace companies, but all united in a mission dedicated to furthering all of humanity.

Remember what Armstrong said as he stepped off that ladder: “One giant leap for mankind.”

It wasn’t one man, or one company, that developed the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft that led us so swiftly and surely to our first steps on the moon. It was a huge collective of pooled talent working under the guidance of dedicated civil servants — employees of the government that Romney and his party want to discredit and dismantle.

Instead of acknowledging any of that, Romney tried to turn the moon landing into a signpost for American exceptionalism. And while it’s true that no other nation has repeated the trip, Romney’s take also ignores the evolution of space exploration since then.

Based partly on fiscal realities, but also on the understanding that space exploration is part of the future of all mankind, the U.S. has partnered with dozens of nations, including former enemies, to pursue science — once again, not for the financial gain of a private company, but for the overall benefit of all people.

I wasn’t really expecting much more from Romney and his party, The more they trumpet their vision for America’s future, the more obvious it becomes they’re actually longing for a return to the past in so many ways, from social and economic policies, to a world where an American superpower is dominant.

It’s a fundamental Republican weakness, and it will make our country weaker, not stronger, because we will, if we follow that path, isolate ourselves and ultimately be left standing alone in the dust of history as the world moves into the future.

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10 Responses

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    Romney didn’t turn it into a pitch for nationalism and US exceptionalism. Exceptionalism was the entire reason for the development of NASA and the space race! You’re evidently too young to remember the threat to the US from the Soviets, but that was the case in the 1950s.

    Republicans are more than willing to work collectively to further national causes that are for the good of the nation – roads, the military, and the internet, etc. Yes – conservatives want to return to the time when the US was the greatest nation on the planet.

    You’re right about JFK. Except for his push to reduce taxes to increase the federal revenue, JFK would have no notion of what it is to be an American like Romney, since he was born into a wealthy family whose fortune was made through insider trading and stock manipulation (not to mention prohibition liquor running). Romney earned his fortune himself and doesn’t cheat on his wife.

    You’re confusing conservatives with Libertarians.

    • The US was the greatest nation on the planet when the top 1% was taxed over 70%, back in the 50s and 60s. We had revenue coming in, we built stuff. Not anymore. It doesn’t matter how old you are, these are facts. Nowadays rich people pay less than 15% on their “carried interest” income, and people think Romney made his fortune himself….yeah after getting $20K+ loans from his parents. Dude, please get real.

      • Oh please – A family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum paid only 5.6 percent of its 2011 income in federal income taxes, according to a new analysis by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. The 5.6 percent rate is the effective tax rate, or the percentage of its income that a family pays in taxes. It is well below the 15 percent marginal tax rate — the rate paid on a filer’s next dollar of income — that a family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum faces.

        Romney, and millions of Americans who have pensions or 401k accounts, receive income that is currently taxed at 15% for long term investments. This is on top of the taxes already paid to invest this money – usually in the 30% or higher range. These taxes are the SECOND TIME that money has been taxed.

        Yeah – those high tax rates might be the facts, but you’re leaving out additional facts: the fact that revenues increased greatly when the top tax rates were reduced during JFKs term, and again when Reagan was president.

        What’s wrong with getting a business loan from your parents? You wouldn’t think twice about getting a 20k loan to buy a car. When his father died, Romney gave the entire inheritance away, something you wouldn’t do. Get real dudette.

        One last thought – you and other Dems are fixated on the wealthy and think they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Well, even if they were taxed at 100%, the entire wealth of these people won’t fix the government revenue problem. The endless spending has to be curtailed or the country is doomed. Better read up on Greece.

    • Jerry, I think you make a good point about the birth of the space program as an example of American exceptionalism. In a suddenly bipolar world and during the space race with the Soviet Union, we wanted to show what we could do if we, as a nation, put our minds to it. I think some of Kennedy’s speeches announcing the lunar goal were very specific on that.

      But that doesn’t change the fact that the space program was successful because it became a collective effort, led by “big government.”

      I accept some aspects of American exceptionalism, especially in a historic concept and I think some of our values are still exceptional.

      What I object to is the Republican interpretation of American exceptionalism as an ideological basis for domestic and foreign policy. I think that’s what Romney did in that part of his speech.

      I think that our exceptionalism needs to be examined and redefined from time to time. What does it mean to be an American — to be America — in the 21st century and how do we bring these values to bear for the good of mankind?

      I think Republicans are stuck in a 20th century Cold War mind set. They haven’t accepted that the world is a vastly different place, where you can’t lead just because your military or your economy is the biggest and strongest.

      In this world, ideas are even more important. In that context, our founding values would still be useful — if Bush (followed by Obama, I admit) hadn’t squandered our ideological capital by basically undermining the Constitution with actions like indefinitely holding prisoners without trials.

      How we see ourselves and how others see us are two very different things. American exceptionalism had value in the past because other countries accepted it when we were a “shining beacon of liberty and hope.”

      Not so sure how many people out there in the world still see us as such. Some do, no question, but that shine has been tarnished in the past few decades. Just because we say we’re special and the best doesn’t make it so. We shouldn’t kid ourselves, living on past glory.

      • I agree that there are collective projects that can be accomplished collectively, as long as the country is of a like mind to get them done. However, these projects are almost never done correctly when the government does them. The waste, corruption and inefficiency is way over the top.

        I’m not sure where you get the idea that Republicans are stuck in a Cold War mindset. We want the wars to stop too. However, once we were attacked on 9/11, it was in our best interest to take action. Once we got Bin Laden, I don’t know why we didn’t just pull everyone out and send them home. Most might say that we have made promises, but the people in the ME apparently don’t care enough to clean up their own countries, so I’d be willing to let them go down the toilet. You’re right – the Gitmo prisoners need to be tried (in a Military court).

        However, military action is very far from the mainstream conservative thought during this election. It’s the economy – jobs jobs jobs – that 3 letter word as Biden says. I don’t know why you’re focused on the military.

        When the exceptionalism fades, we’ll be just another mediocre country ready to rot away – following in the footsteps of most of Europe. Is that what you want?

        • My comments were in response to Romney’s reference to the space program, which was an example of American government functioning at its best.

          Is government wasteful?

          In some cases, yes, especially when it comes to military contracting. If you want to cut the deficit, I suggest starting there, but that’s a sacred cow for both parties, but especially the Republicans.

          In other cases, I see the government doing a lot with very limited resources, especially in the area of public lands management, which I follow most closely.

          In my opinion, most recently exemplified by the Bush administration, the Republicans have a history of externalizing problems by pointing to a foreign enemy, thus detracting attention from real problems at home. I’m not fixated on the military. I used several other examples (voting) to try and make my point. And it’s not the conservative mainstream I’m worried about, it’s the Republican willingness to be led by the military-industrial interests, who always seem to have outsized influence in a Republican administration.

          As far as the Middle East, I’d say there’s currently a pretty widespread popular uprising that’s an effort to “clean up,” and it’s an area where I would say both the Republicans and Democrats — and perhaps the entire West — have failed spectacularly, except I’m not sure what else we could do other than direct intervention in places like Syria.

          Should we go there? I honestly don’t know, but I do think that when history is written, and classified documents are released several decades from now, we’ll see that the U.S. had a hand in fomenting those uprisings. After 9-11, our intelligence services hired huge numbers of Arabic-speaking people. Not all of them could work on trying to track down bin Laden and al Qaida, so it’s my guess that many of them went to work in Egypt, Libya and Syria.

          As far as the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs, I’ve seen nothing makes me believe that Romney could do much more than Obama has to tackle what is now an institutional economic malaise. I’m not an expert on fiscal policies and economics, so I can’t get too specific, but my gut says that our economy needs a fundamental overhaul, not just tweaking tax rates, but a basic rethinking of priorities. Perhaps, in the 21st century, the economy shouldn’t simply be about more and more production and consumption. Perhaps other values — sustainability, culture, education, innovation, just for example — should become a bigger part of the equation.

          Not sure where you got the idea that Europe is “rotting away.”

          Sure, some individual European problems are having terrible economic troubles right now, but others, including some that I visited this summer, are thriving, with low unemployment rates, strong economic growth (despite a different tax structure) and making the switch to clean, renewable energy, thanks in part to fiscal incentives from government. Just like in this country, where some states (California) are in a huge mess, while others are doing much better, with low unemployment, job growth and state budget surpluses. It’s tough to generalize …

          Just go figure that those are the same countries that generally have progressive and liberal social-democratic government and economic structures, where there is more of an emphasis on environmental values, on sustainability, on the welfare of workers (more leisure time, more vacation, universal and preventive health care).

  2. Why don’t you simply admit you would like to see Romney lose in November and spare us this tortured attempt to twist the space program into a diatribe that reeks with the stench of bias.

    • I think that’s pretty clear. I don’t think Romney would be a good president. It would be a disaster for women, health care and most of all, the environment

  3. Excellent comments and analysis.

  4. Reblogged this on Gigable – Tech Blog.

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