Goodnight, Moon: No More Neil Armstrongs in a Conservative Future

Glenn Smith
August 26, 1212

Neil Armstrong went to college on the GI Bill. It seems fitting that we remind ourselves of that on the day after his death and on the eve the GOP national convention with the stupid, chest-puffing slogan, “We Built It.”

The slogan, of course, is built upon yet another Republican lie about President Obama, who was just reminding us how much we rely upon one another for everything from highways, to the FDIC, small business loans, education, health care etc. etc. Idiot America, to use Charles P. Pierce’s felicitous phrase, twisted it to mean “the government built it for you.”

Since the Republicans are mounting this slogan in an arena built by the government, there are plenty of ways to mock them. But there is a destructive belief behind their words, the belief that each of us floats alone in the universe, that whatever we do, we do without connection to others.

This hyper-individualism, in both its folk and its Ayn Rand, pseudo-philosophical guises, is unique to America. I suppose it grows from the Myth of the West and the idea that some pioneers carved there lives on the lonely prairie without help from anyone. Of course, most of those pioneers planted their crops on a farm they received because of the federal Homestead Act. But facts have very little influence on such myths.

George Lakoff and I co-authored a Huffington Post essay last week, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget: Will America Keep Its Soul,” which discussed these issues in the context of the catastrophic damage the Romney/Ryan budget plans would do to the country. The piece received an enormous amount of attention. One of the most interesting things, though, could be found in the comments. There, those who disagreed with us consistently – even willfully – misrepresented our thoughts in order to then disagree with them.

That’s not unexpected. It shouldn’t really be controversial to assert the simple truths that humans are interdependent, that no one is an island, that we depend on one another for our shared public goods. None of us could make it without others. In the minds of the hyper-individualists though, this assertion is taken as the prescribed sacrifice of the individual for a faceless collective. Well, in some cases it’s not faceless. It’s the dangerous, lazy “Other” who wants to take what “productive” citizens have earned.

Neil Armstrong provides a great example to refute this straw-man argument from extreme conservatives. There is no denying that Armstrong was a heroic individual. He was the first human being to walk on the Moon, and he got there through hard work and a lifelong commitment to serve others.

It took thousands of dedicated people to get Armstrong to the Moon. That’s not quite right. It took a nation’s worth of people to make that achievement possible. Even before there was a U.S. Space Program, the nation came together to create the G.I. Bill – which, as noted, helped Armstrong receive his education in engineering.

It’s possible that if America should adopt the kind of budget recommended by Romney and Ryan, there simply won’t be anymore Neil Armstrongs. For many Americans, college is farther away than Armstrong’s Moon. Safeguards on the environment and the health and safety of Americans could disappear altogether.

America’s conservatives want to blow up the bridges after the most privileged Americans have crossed over them. In their future, there will be no route from Armstrong’s boyhood farm to the Moon.

James Moore

Director, Progress Texas PAC
James Moore is the author of six books including he New York Times bestseller "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.” Moore is on political analyst MSNBC and frequent guest on national political news programs. Read more »

Glenn Smith

Glenn Smith

Director, Progress Texas PAC
Glenn Smith has spent the past 30 years in journalism and politics, where he’s made a name for himself as a writer, campaign manager, activist, think tank analyst and, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas says, a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” Read more »