On Saturday, as Americans debated whether Lance Armstrong was a genuine hero after dropping his fight with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, another Armstrong - an indisputable American hero - died. Were Webster's to pair Neil Armstrong with "hero" in its dictionary, one needn't Think Again to fathom the bravery, achievement and nobility implied by the word.
By fulfilling President Kennedy's audacious goal to have an American walk on the moon within the decade, Neil Armstrong is remembered for the skill, courage, grace under pressure and innate humility necessary to achieve "one giant leap for mankind" while crediting legions of dedicated others for the "one small step for man" he took on July 20, 1969. Upon fulfilling his mission, he didn't spike the football or parlay fame into power or fortune. He receded into dignified private life to teach and inspire future generations.
In breaking the sad news, NBC's Brian Williams asserted, "We have lost the last American hero," as if surrendering America's heroic destiny to our era's chaos and controversy. Yet throughout our tumultuous history, Americans have proven, "Where there's a will, there's a way," starting with George Washington, who summoned heroism in his beleaguered troops by crossing the icy Delaware River en route to American independence.
Though Thomas Jefferson warned, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground," our founders established "a government of the people, by the people, for the people," knowing it was a precondition to a dynamic, prosperous and free society. We fought the Civil War so this American ideal wouldn't perish from the earth. Now, with our faith in the American Dream rattled, we face another great challenge.
Today we suffer unprecedented levels of economic stagnation, long-term unemployment and government dependency. Despite a record $830 billion stimulus enacted in February 2009, this recovery (which technically began in June 2009) is the weakest of the 11 tracked since World War II. Stimulus advocates promising that the unemployment rate wouldn't exceed 8 percent - though it has for 42 consecutive months - were also wrong in forecasting a 5.5 percent rate by now.
Even since the start of the "recovery," economic trends have deteriorated: The ranks of the long-term unemployed grew by 800,000, those no longer in the labor force increased 8 million, and food-stamp spending doubled to $85 billion. New York Times economics columnist Catherine Rampell reported that median household incomes declined more (4.8 percent) during the "recovery" - even among the continuously employed - than they fell (2.8 percent) during the preceding 18-month recession. Consequently, 85 percent of the much-discussed American middle class reports that it's now harder to maintain their standard of living, according to Pew Research.
Humorist P.J. O'Rourke said, "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." Refusing to relinquish their intoxicating power to spend and borrow, political leaders have subverted the national interest by causing four consecutive trillion-dollar deficits. With government spending at stratospheric levels, we charge $41,222 to our children's credit card every second. At $16 trillion, our national debt is up 50 percent since January 2009, exceeding the size of our economy. When added to future Medicare and Social Security claims, it totals $136 trillion - an incomprehensible, indefensible and morally reprehensible sum.
Anyone who's balanced a checkbook - or watched events unfold in Europe - understands that red ink turns to blood, particularly when interest rates rise above historical lows. So how can we trust leaders who won't see and aren't planning to avert the fiscal black hole toward which we're rocketing? Shouldn't we urge courageous leaders to redirect our perilous trajectory toward a safe landing?
As the cliche goes, "If we can send a man to the moon," then we can restore America's promise to secure a more stable and prosperous future. After instituting reforms to entitlement programs and its tax code, Canada achieved a remarkable economic turnaround, and so can we. It will require a Kennedy-esque leader to define the challenge as the fiscal equivalent of the moonshot and to summon the political will for liftoff against fierce gravitational forces.
As a firm believer in Americans, Abraham Lincoln said, "If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts." Eager for blast-off is a nation of unassuming and reluctant heroes - ordinary Americans. Spoken to like adults, and with the facts in hand, we have the "right stuff" to enable another "giant leap for mankind." If this isn't our generation's most important mission, what is?
Think Again - our children need us to be their heroes.