A memorial to the possibility of great things
by David Atkins
Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday.
I'm twelve years too young to have been on Earth at the time that Neil took those fateful footsteps on our Moon. And long after I'm little more than dust and my name is long forgotten, Neil's name and accomplishment will be long remembered. And even if humanity self-immolates in nuclear catastrophe next year, his footprint will remain almost indelible for centuries, a reminder of the great things of which our species was capable despite our flaws and shortcomings.
Long after our wars are forgotten and their causes quaint, long after economic booms and busts have pushed our current economic troubles into the haze of distant memory, Neil's achievement will be remembered with the same urgency as it is today. His achievement is timeless.
But it was not his achievement alone. His walk on the moon was the result of thousands of individuals working tirelessly to bring the impossible to fruition, and the result of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars (in today's money) to make one of humanity's oldest dreams come true. For that reason, we can all share in Neil's accomplishment even if only by proxy. Or at least, those of us who were alive at the time can do so. Of my generation I'm not so certain, though I would state emphatically the blame does not lie with us.
Neil's was an accomplishment undertaken at a time when we still believed we were capable of great things. A time when the common good and furtherance of the human spirit were more important than personal greed. A time when a President could utter the phrase "Ask not what your Country can do for you, but what you can do for your Country" and not be mocked for his optimism.
It was a time before Reagan. Before "Greed is Good." It was a time when a President could truly declare a "War on Poverty" without ridicule. Before the drabness of "Welfare Reform" became the sort of meager and churlish thing the press would hail as forward-thinking and bold.
It was a time when the health and wealth of the nation was seen as bound up in the heights to which our science, learning, and social justice could aspire. It was a time before we allowed our collective health and wealth to be measured by as meaningless, lackluster and empty a symbol as the the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
It was a time when the word "Grand" would almost never be followed by the word "Bargain", and when the nation would gasp in horror at the very thought of that Devil's deal be the trading away of Medicare and Social Security to further enrich those whose stores were already more than ample.
And while much progress has indeed been made in many areas of social justice to include all our nation's citizens regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, there can be no doubt that it was ideologically a far more morally advanced time collectively than we have inherited today.
I was born at the beginning of Ronald Reagan's unfortunate presidency. I was six years old when Gordon Gekko first graced the silver screen. Thirteen when the ugliness of Newt Gingrich's small-minded and shriveled Contract beat down on the body public. When the protections of Glass Steagall were repealed with wild applause I had barely come of age to enter college, and September 11th was the prelude to my second decade on the planet--a decade almost entirely consumed by the darkest and least honorable Presidency in history of this country.
My generational cohorts and I know nothing but this. This all too petty, all too drab, all too villainous smallness of being. It is time for moral and spiritual rebirth.
So rest in peace, Neil Armstrong. And may my generation begin the process of rebuilding the greatness that took you to such exalted heights, and repairing the damage wrought by the Reagan Devolution.