What Obama and Romney Can Learn from Neil Armstrong

We did big things before. We can do them again.

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Barack Obama poses with Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, in the Oval Office at the White House, on July 20, 2009

It was a promise that seemed bold even in a bold time. The title of the president’s remarks to Congress on May 25, 1961, was informed by an anxiety that the nations of the world were weighing a choice between democracy and communism: “Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs.” One such need was victory in the space race. And so came President John F. Kennedy’s landmark announcement that the United States “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. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

(MORE: Remember Neil Armstrong: A Man of Profound Skill and Preternatural Calm)

He was, he knew, asking for something that, if not impossible to accomplish, was at least highly treacherous. The ensuing years brought the murder of the president who spoke those words, the morass of Vietnam, the tumult of the civil-rights movement, the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and finally, in November 1968, the election of the man JFK had defeated in 1960, Richard Nixon. By the time the decade was out it seemed, to use a phrase of Yeats that has often been invoked in this context, that the center would not hold.

Yet amid all the chaos and crises, thanks to an extraordinary effort of  will on the part of the political and scientific communities, the space program continued to move apace. It was one of the greatest government-led projects in history. It would have not have happened without a commitment of public resources and a marshaling, too, of private enterprise in terms of contractors and expertise. The success of the Apollo program, in other words, required each aspect of the American economy to do its part. We have seen nothing like it since; in fact, the hostility between public and private has grown so thick that we as a nation are largely paralyzed in our ability to work together to encourage technological innovation and economic growth.

(MORE: Peace in Space: Why Obama Is Right (And the Far Right Is Wrong))

All of this came to mind this weekend with the news of the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon. The Apollo program has never had a chronicler who could do for it what Tom Wolfe did so brilliantly for the Mercury missions in The Right Stuff, but perhaps the iconic image of Armstrong’s landing, and his immortal words, could point us toward the future rather than the past.

When the presidential candidates — or, really, any of us — talk about the American future, about our frustration with the direction of the country, it’s worth remembering Neil Armstrong and the spirit of cooperation and of mission and of perseverance that allowed him to take that One Giant Leap for Mankind. We did such things once. We ought to be able to do them again.

PHOTOS: Neil Armstrong: Private Man, Public Hero

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frtheo
frtheo

As loyal  subscriber to Time Magazine, I was disappointed in Time's recent findings of Dr.ManMohansingh, the PM of India as an underachiever and Narendra  Modi as an ' achiever' . Yes  indeed he is; he achieved elimination of minority in Gujarat. His faithful Minister Maya Codnani has been sentenced for 28 years in prison. Could please tell me why the US Consulate denied Visa to  Mr. Modi?

Molly_Rn
Molly_Rn

We should also remember what an honorable man Neil Armstrong was. He was a true hero. Instead of making a ton of money as a celebrity he "retired" from the limelight.

wurman
wurman

On Jan. 27, 1967, Gus Grissom, Roger White, and Roger Chaffee were burned to death on the launch pad destroying Apollo I. The lack of coordination among NASA, Hughes Aircraft, McDonnell-Douglas, and myriad smaller contractors led to this disaster.

Boeing was called in as the "Technical Integration and Evaluation Contractor."

What Pres. Obama can learn from Neil Armstrong is the lesson that an outside expert can put his re-election campaign exactly on track--who ya' gonna' call: Bill Clinton.

What Mr. Romney will learn is to buy a nice farm in Utah and enter a quiet retirement out of the public eye and enjoy a gentle old age by keeping his mouth shut.

priestson
priestson

Landing a man on the moon is remarkably  simple compared with solving the Middle East crisis or avoiding any more futile wars.

Surfboat Dan.
Surfboat Dan.

So many of us in "Those Days" were told we didn't qualify for certain jobs that we went to college to become qualified.  Now we are told that we are not qualified because we think we know everything.   Let's face it.  White people hate us minorities and the only jobs minorities can get are public service jobs.  NASCAR dad's don't want no Ns on the track!  And they own the track and every other self-dealing government contracting enterprise privately. 

L David Tzeng
L David Tzeng

I would rather like to see the title changes to: "What Jon Meacham Can Learn from Neil Armstrong". 

The more these media merchants wrote, the more they feel like they are the "St. Peters".

formerlyjamesm
formerlyjamesm

I don't think your message applies to President Obama and you seem  to not  have been paying attention to the TP Republicans of recent years.  They are not capable of even beginning to understand the message.

Theresekwv
Theresekwv

Stephanie replied I'm startled that someone able to get paid $9335 in 1 month on the network. have you look this(Click on menu Home)