Lots of deserved recollections on the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing over the last few weeks and months. There’s not much need to repeat the main themes of the scientific marvel or adventurous spirit of that glorious enterprise. Some political aspects of Apollo, however, have not received sufficient attention. Specifically, the liberal attitude toward the moon landing is emblematic of how American liberalism had lost confidence in itself and sunk into its guilt phase from which it has never emerged.
As befits our woeful woke era, there has been a lot of comment about the lack of “diversity” among the astronaut corps, and mission control staff, and so forth, along with some brief and perfunctory mentions of how the Poor People’s Campaign, led by Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Martin Luther King’s successor), came to the Apollo 11 launch at Cape Canaveral “to protest America’s inability to choose human priorities.” And we get stupid hot take tweets like this earlier this week:
And historical illiteracy like this:
But we shouldn’t underestimate how dramatically liberals turned against the Apollo project at the moment of its triumph—a sign of the larger collapse of liberalism in the 1960s. The moon landing had been set out as a lofty goal by the liberals’ hero, John F. Kennedy, and the moon landing was an occasion of national pride and celebration for most Americans. Here, amidst the rubble and gloom of the 1960s, was something that had gone splendidly right. Many leading liberals, however, could only sniff that while the moon landing was undeniably impressive, the money for the moon landing would have been better spent on social problems on Earth. The popular cliché of the time went: “Any nation that can land a man on the moon can [fill in the blank].” (The total cost of the decade-long moon landing project was less than three months’ worth of federal spending for social programs in 1969.)
Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said that “The needs of the people on earth, and especially in this country, should have priority. When we solve these problems, we can consider space efforts.” Even the brother of the man who issued the call to go to the moon, Sen. Ted Kennedy, expressed weariness with the space program: “I think after [the moon landing] the space program ought to fit into our other national priorities.”
This may have been the moment when liberalism certified that it had become a crabbed and negative force in American life. It has never recovered.
Chaser, from the great Michael Ramirez:
Also this, from our special correspondent “Phota Obscura”:
Bonus: This 20-minute video contains the descent to the moon in real time, and is worth sitting through.