Lots of folks — Tom Wolfe in the NY Times, Megan McArdle in The Atlantic blog — have noted the last couple of days that our failure to go beyond the moon, let alone even return there, represents a failure of imagination. True, but no one has mentioned the role of contemporary liberalism in this story. Almost ten years ago I noted:
The reaction to the moon landing in 1969 is a good example of national exhaustion and liberal guilt at work. The moon landing had been set out as a lofty goal by the liberals’ hero, John F. Kennedy, and the moon landing was an occasion of national pride and celebration for most Americans. Here, amidst the rubble and gloom of the 1960s, was something that had gone splendidly right. Many leading liberals, however, could only sniff that while the moon landing was undeniably impressive, the money for the moon landing would have been better spent on social problems on Earth. The popular cliché of the time went: “Any nation that can land a man on the moon can [fill in the blank].” (The total cost of the decade-long moon landing project was less than three months’ worth of federal spending for social programs in 1969.) A 25 person delegation from the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Martin Luther King’s successor), came to the Apollo 11 launch at Cape Canaveral “to protest America’s inability to choose human priorities,” while Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said that “The needs of the people on earth, and especially in this country, should have priority. When we solve these problems, we can consider space efforts.” Even the brother of the man who issued the call to go to the moon, Sen. Ted Kennedy, expressed weariness with the space program: “I think after [the moon landing] the space program ought to fit into our other national priorities.”
Of course, we can’t think about going to Mars until we’ve nationalized health care. The next nation to land on the moon will probably be China. When they do so, there will probably still be something like 300 million Chinese living in abject poverty. Wonder what our liberals will say. I predict they will say nothing, the imperatives of multiculturalism trumping their welfare-statism.