|What happened in October 1929? Why were income taxes |
very high in 1919? Your Republican member of Congress
does not know, but perhaps you should.
But it is not this intellectual dishonesty behind the actions of America's Republicans that disturbs me. It is not just that they will not explain why the US top marginal income tax rate was so high in 1919, or that their preferred "strategy" produced a worldwide economic collapse that took a decade to begin to dig out of. Lying is one thing...
...being defeated is another.
If you watch the whole Kennedy speech from that day in Houston, you will hear honesty you have not heard from a leader in a very long time. "All this will cost us a great deal of money," he says, "a staggering sum." He details that, saying the cost of the space program will rise to be "more than 50 cents per person per week for every man, woman, and child in America." Yes, things that matter - even something which mattered spiritually more than perhaps anything else - cost money then. And will cost money now. But societies which care about the future do what matters.
Societies which don't, don't. And, in Washington DC, in Westminster in London, in Ottawa, Canada, in Canberra, Australia, we are usually listing what we cannot do. We plan our defeats before we even let ourselves discuss our possibilities.
In the United States we cannot provide everyone with decent health care, we cannot properly fund public education or the preparation of teachers. We cannot rebuild New Orleans, we cannot create national rail travel options. We cannot even make our bridges safe, or, according to Michigan's governor, make cars which get good gas mileage. Now, 49 years after Kennedy's speech, we cannot even get a human into space.
It's not so different in the United Kingdom. David Cameron's government can't feed or house its own people - something even World War II Britain managed to do. They can't pay for decent schools either, and after doing it for 66 years, they're not sure they can provide universal health care anymore.
In Canada the Prime Minister couldn't even figure out how to stay in office without shutting down Parliament like a third rate military dictator, then gets re-elected by claiming that Canada really can't do anything anymore.
Heroism is a real thing, and we need heroes today
(The PT 109 Story from Navy Log, a 1950s TV show)
Heroism is a real thing. John Kennedy had many leadership skills, including, obviously, the gift of human communication, but he - and much of his generation - also had an understanding that the future needed to be a better place, and that creating that better place would take hard work and sacrifice.
The leaders who built the "postwar" world were risk-takers because they understood the risk of not moving forward. Whether Kennedy in the United States, or Willy Brandt in Germany, or Robert Schuman of France, they were heroes before they ran for political office, they understood real risk and reward, and they all understood the value of society and community.
|Before The Great Society, Robert Kennedy sees|
"Poverty in the United States"
In Berlin Willy Brandt took a destroyed, divided city and rebuilt it into one of world's great symbols of democracy, and then took huge risks to breach the Iron Curtain with friendship.
And in France, Robert Schuman, escaped prisoner of the Gestapo, began the most audacious experiment in Europe since the dawn of Rome, when he set in motion the effort to build a peaceful, democratic, united continent which welcomed the just defeated Germany as an equal partner.
See, those are actual risk-taking activities. Those attempts are not the same as finding "grand bargains" or yelling at a crumbling wall, or babbling about "big societies." They were real.
And obviously those were real attempts to create an improved future - not the hysterical whining of those who think a time of incredible oppression of minorities and women, combined with high infant mortality and starving farmers, represents "the good old days."
It is hard to even imagine JFK's "Moon Speech" in today's America. In a nation where clowns claim to be in a "Tea Party" recovering some supposed "anti-tax" past (quick question, were the original "Tea Party" rioters opposed to paying taxes, or, did they want representation in the British Parliament?), in a country where the Secretary of Education, the man charged with safeguarding the future, is constantly telling us what we cannot do, in a nation where people vote like they fully believe their greatness is in the past. It is hard to imagine what our students might say if they watched the whole speech. Or if British students actually listened to Churchill, or if Canadian students thought about John Macdonald trying to pull a bizarre collection of British colonies together with an impossible railroad...
What would they say?
And what would they say about us, the collective "we" who have lost our imagination and our ambition. "We" who ask about everything, "what will it cost me?" "We" who choose to not even invest in our own children?
Will they expect us to be - just a little - heroic? To take real risks? To try big things? To make sacrifices for something we may not live to see?
I hope so.
- Ira Socol