Our “Sputnik” Moment

The Washington Post informs me that the President, as he has in the past, will declare tonight during the State of the Union:

“this is our generation’s Sputnik moment…..two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.”

As a frequent abuser of metaphors, I’m not sure this is the best one to use, for Obama’s sake. Let me explain:

  1. Sputnik => Soviet => Communist. Using a Communist achievement, that motivated us to action, won’t necessarily stick in the minds of listeners positively. While the Soviets were our adversary, our economic downturn is largely of our own making. Us being our own enemy is not the same as one-upping our adversary.
  2. Sputnik happened in 1957. What percentage of Americans are old enough to remember Sputnik? It launched in 1957, so you’d have to be 54 to be born by then, so let’s say you were age 6 or older. There are, by some accounts, 56 million Americans over the age of 60, so about 18% remember Sputnik. Everyone else who knows about it probably only knows about it from October Sky or history class.
  3. Sputnik doesn’t really resonate as “an achievement” for those who remember it — many older Americans think that it was when the Soviets beat us in the space race for the first time. Most of them hate communism and communists. “Remember when we lost the space race to a dysfunctional Communist regime? Sure, we out did them in the end, over and over, but we lost the race to space to one of the most commodity rich countries in the world that couldn’t even deliver basic services to its citizens.” People remember that, and not always fondly. Be careful what image(s) you conjure up, there can be unintended consequences.
  4. Government program by a Communist regime < Even bigger government program by the United States? Call me crazy, but most people won’t make the intended connection. “Hey Bill! Remember back in 2009 when Obama took office and we had a stock market comeback two years later?” “Yeah, it kind of reminds me of when those dirty red Russian bastards spent tons of money to put a two-foot wide metal sphere into space that beeped! They sent up a dog on a suicide mission, later a person who came back, and after losing the second time, we decided to send up 20 or so people. And then we sent them to the moon! It sure showed we could outspend them!”
  5. Stock Market Comeback ≠ Jobs created. This from Democrats? Many of them demonize profits all of the time. Sure, a vibrant stock market helps facilitate job creation, but it doesn’t guarantee it. There’s been some job creation as of late, but not enough to help new market entrants, so the problem, while marginally improving, is not solved.

Anyways, I am sure the speech will be delivered well, and well written. However, I’m not convinced that the Sputnik metaphor is the best one you could use. But I’ll watch the speech and see for myself.

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