Back to the "leadership thing"

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I am, of course, voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday. He is the clear choice, especially considered in the light of John McCain, who, to me, is a pale, sorry version of what he once presented to the American people, a hope for honest, straightforward leadership. "Craven panderer" is about all he has left, and it has been disgusting to watch.

I'm disappointed to find myself, again, in the position of voting against someone, rather than for someone. That's an overstatement — I like a lot of what Obama says, and I'm not at all concerned about the experience factor. McCain's been around a long time, but I don't think he has the experience that I'd want in a leader, which is, to say, leadership.

More than Obama has proven to me that he is going to be a good president, McCain has proven to me that we will continue our spiral into bellicose global has-been if he is elected. Hope for leadership is what drew me to Obama initially, several years ago. Certainty that Hillary Clinton would triangulate, rather than lead, was my foremost reason for not supporting her.

But I won't be more enthusiastic about Obama until I see more evidence of leadership — the ability and willingness to steer a course based on principle, and the ability to bring along skeptics who are nevertheless willing to follow.

This issue has resurfaced for me in recent days because of unconnected references I've heard about the US's path to the moon. First is a TED Talk by Burt Rutan, whose company won the X Prize for sending a privately funded craft toward space twice within a week. The talk was recorded in 2006 but I heard it only this week.

Rutan begins by talking about our failure to inspire youth toward exploring the unknown — "I feel strongly that it's not good enough for us to have generations of kids who think it's OK to look forward to a better version of a cell phone with a video in it. They need to look forward to exploration. ... We need to inspire them because they need to lead us and help us survive in the future."

Last night, I believe it was my friend Ron who shared something he heard on tape, that the average age of the people in Mission Control on the night we landed on the moon was 26. He continued by pointing out that that put the average age of those people at 18 when President Kennedy committed us to go to the moon, "not because it's easy but because it is hard." Those teenagers were fired up by a leader's declaration of purpose. They pointed their lives toward a goal inspired by our president. That's what I'm talking about.

In the aftermath of 9/11, meanwhile, Bush was certainly bullheaded, but when it came time to inspire people over our gravest threat to peace, he told us to go shopping. That's what 40 years can do to a nation. I talked, in my previous post, about how people often refer back to our moon shot as proof of American can-do. I would add that Kennedy's call to purpose remains the most outstanding example of a national call to action in 40 years as well. I don't think that's a coincidence.

There is general agreement that our trek to the moon delivered an avalanche of technology that benefitted daily life. But we didn't start out with that goal. Kennedy's call arose from national pride and competitiveness and from the spirit of exploration. Such motivations will merely be supporting factors if our next president calls us to action on the matter of our energy future. In this fight, there is clear and present danger, and the first purposes of concerted innovation would be to safeguard national — and international — security while improving the daily lives of every citizen. We don't have to have the answers before we embark.

Undoubtedly, President Kennedy had advice that reaching the moon was an achievable goal, but it was not a certainty. Nevertheless, he said "let's go" and we did, and 40 years later, we still consider it the most impressive task we ever achieved. If we still are that great nation capable of anything, there is no greater goal than resolving the energy crises facing us. And we need a leader to light the rocket.

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