For sheer audacity, nothing beats Kennedy’s speech to “…land a man on the moon and bring him safely back to the earth.” He could have said, “We will make the biggest pizza pie the world has ever seen and have every American eat a slice with the Soviet Union watching on live TV,” but that wouldn’t have fired up quite the same fires of passion and imagination, or unleashed the tremendous wave of innovation the moonshot did.
Looking back, the amazing thing is not accomplishing the safe return from a moon landing, but that the nation allowed President Kennedy to make such a commitment. Today a U.S. President must fight with everything he’s got, to do much less ambitious things than a moon shot.
When he gave the “We choose to go to The moon” speech Kennedy said this, “We choose to go to the Moon! …We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.
Wow! What happened to us?
What happened to make us uninspirable, unable to even conceive of a goal that we can all believe in and pursue simply for the promise that we’ll all be the better for it. In my last post I shared my thoughts on what changed to make it more likely to mobilize a nation behind an unjust war like Iraq and not for a goal that could literally bring peace and prosperity.
Hope and change
Obama was widely regarded as Kennedy-esque when he campaigned for the White House and he brought a sense of hope and change. Wouldn’t it have been nice if at the beginning of his first administration, he made the moon-shot speech of our generation. Here’s the speech I wish he had made:
We will harness the power of the sun
Today I commit the United States to be the first nation to fully harness the power of the sun. By the year 2025 100% of our nation’s power will come either directly from the sun or from clean renewable resources like wind and geothermal or fusion. We commit the United States to this endeavor because we choose to take responsibility for the future of this magnificent planet we share with all the great nations of the earth. The earth’s climate is undeniably changing at an unprecedented rate, and the rate and extent of this change will affect us all, and will cause—and is already causing—extreme hardship on those least able to adapt. There is also no doubt that human activity is responsible for this rapid rate of climate change.
We cannot simply turn our backs on those who will suffer the most by building walls and using our military. Even if we were to do that, our quality of life here in the U.S. would still suffer immensely; with our coastal cities going under water, and extreme hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and forest fires becoming the new normal. We owe it to our future generations to bequeath the beautiful,bountiful planet our parents left us.
But this initiative is not just about avoiding disaster; it is also about ushering in a new era of abundance and security. With energy equally available to everyone, there will no longer be any reason to fight each other for oil. Peace not just in our time, but for all time may really be possible because we will change our operating paradigm from resource scarcity to available abundance to all by leveraging new technologies like AI, robotics, nanotechnology and 3D printing to enable every human being to never again worry about having a roof over their heads, or clothes on their backs. We will usher in a new magical era of radically reduced cost of living, that will encourage every American to explore their human potential without any concern for the cost of health care, a place to live, or for food on the table.
We will generate new jobs and new sources of income as we help other countries to also harness the power of the sun. America will again be the beacon of hope and the guiding light for the world.
Today we commit to harnessing the power of the sun to ensure peace, prosperity and possibility for all people on planet earth.
It’s our fault
Obama may have been the right President at the right time to have made such a speech. My guess is that he wanted to, but he knew he couldn’t. Unlike Kennedy’s audience the listeners out here today have lost their capacity to listen for possibility; they’re biased towards fear and prejudice—that’s all they hear.
That’s not Obama’s fault.
It’s not anyone’s fault but collectively we are allowing the rational, logical and inspirational points of view to drown in the ubiquity of unleashed, unquestioned opinion; we are using social media to find like-minded voices and unfriend dissenting ones.
Despite the amazing connective and research possibilities available to us, our thinking capacity has diminished; the internet is literally making us stupid.
We’ve never been great at challenging our own points of view, but at least back in Kennedy’s time, our leaders seemed more open, and if they were willing to compromise we would go along. I think we’re losing that capacity and the only thing capable of unifying us is an immense imminent threat.
We could still win this thing
Al Gore is optimistic that we are already winning battles in the climate change war, so we may not need a Kennedy-esque national commitment to prevail. There are enough state and national initiatives, plus entrepreneurial leadership, (Elon Musk), to pull the rabbit out of the hat. But it certainly would help to have a U.S. President commit U.S. ingenuity to harness the power of the sun safely here on earth for the benefit of all life on earth.