When I was a very young child growing up in the 1970's I remember coming home from school and watching space flights to the moon. I was born in 1967 and since my father had been an air force officer and had known Neil Armstrong I felt it was important as a child to watch.
I grew up in what Rick Perlstein called Nixonland. The place that White Ethnic Americans migrated to to escape change. My people have been demonized by many on the left as ignorant or stupid because their families bought into a set of principals that suddenly changed and they did not know how to change with them. It was not that the Nixonland people hated Blacks or others it was just that this was not the deal they bought into when they voted for JFK and LBJ.
The moonshots were the embodiment of what Nixonlanders thought America should be. We should all work together. IF you dissent from the norm on social policy you are hurting society they believe. If you demand to have your rights respected you are hurting America.
In a recent conversation with my Dad he could not understand why a judge in California ruled the referendum against Gay marriage unconstitutional. He was sure that Gay rights did not measure up to Civil Rights that somehow recognizing legally one's deep personal affections was not a civil right. I realized how much our world has changed but I also realized that the world that created the Right Stuff- you know moon shots and interstate highways was also gone.
There was a time when American respected their presidents. They also respected change but now we live in an America of two camps. We are a nation that is divided and that divide deepens each year. Some people swallow the Fox News line, they believe that what happened to Shirley Sherrod was no big deal and that Barack Obama is not legitimate for reasons unspoken. These Americans believe in America's greatness but they also believe that Progressives are the cause of decline. Another America has moved on from the Right Stuff. Everything is relative and America is just another country sometimes good and sometimes bad. For these Americans the world is a relative place.
As America goes into decline and we fight over the scraps we forget that at one time these two divisions were one. The America of Eisenhower, Truman, Roosevelt and Kennedy had room for Civil Rights and Great Dreams like the Space Program. It was the America of great universities. Imagine in 1965 the University of California was free to students. The average college cost for a student at a major Big Ten University was $450 dollars a semester. That was an America that invested in the future.
That America also believed in innovation and growth but it also believed that millions who are unemployed should be helped. It was the America of Medicare and the Interstate Highway System it was the America that was not petty or small. But we have become petty and small. We cannot pass a highway bill, we cannot agree that people should not go bankrupt because they get sick, we cannot agree that America needs the best educational system.
Today we have become a small minded nation we worry about Reality TV shows and political scream shows. Imagine if Barack Obama gave a speech like JFK's about Space? Immediately Fox News would destroy him. Imagine if Obama risked like Nixon and went to China? What would happen? Remember when we all laughed at George W Bush when he spoke loftily about freedom?
It seems that America has the Right Stuff no More.