Home > Politics > Where are our Sputnik goals?

Where are our Sputnik goals?

When the Soviet Union beat the United States in putting a satellite in space back in October 1957 it sparked a collective urgency and enthusiasm to beat them to the moon. President Kennedy inspired Americans with the words, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Yet, when President Obama evoked the emotion of our generation’s “Sputnik Moment” during the State of the Union I was left without a clear and inspiring goal. What specifically are we trying to accomplish?

To be fair, the historical parallel to the space race is not great and Obama did focus on some positive goals to “win the future.” He outlined a vision for a country with a well educated workforce, an innovative economy, and an efficient public sector. The problem is that 98% internet access or 80% high speed rail access goals are not the same as landing on the moon. Even the allusions to austerity felt like lip service to the true depth of the problem. We need governmental and societal goals we can rally around.

What about a few like this?

Reclaim top rank in science and  math – To position ourselves effectively for a competitive economic future we will make sure American children have a sufficient education. Instead of ranking outside the top 20 in both categories, we will do what it takes to be ranked first, period.

Save 10% of our income – In the “new era of responsibility” we will work to achieve an average american savings rate of 10%. This will provide more personal resource for retirement, political stability for entitlement reform, and economic growth through increased capital for investment.

Reverse the obesity trend – In 2009 there were nine states with obesity rates above 30%, up from three in 2007.  Related complications like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer are driving up health costs. We need nation-wide inspiration for exercise and nutrition changes.

Balance the budget by 2020 – Tackle the $1.5 trillion deficit through economic growth, tax reform, adjusting social security, 25% cut in defense, and more aggressive Medicare reform. Let’s start talking in hundreds of billions instead of earmarks and discretionary spending.

I recognize the unwieldy nature of these goals and the difficulty involved in the political arena. I also don’t pretend that these are the right or only goals to pursue. My point is that I can latch on to these both personally and politically. The is a role for government and the individual.

I can take responsibility for my financial future and put money away in an IRA. I can stand up for the effective teaching of evolution in public schools and care more about the science fair than the super bowl (I like that one Obama.) I can choose to eat healthy and encourage those around me to exercise more. I can also balance my own budget and not penalize politicians trying to do the same.

If America’s new “Sputnik Moment” is supposed to wake us up and energize a movement toward some specific goals then let’s do that. Let’s inspire Americans to truly wake up and change something.

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Categories: Politics
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