I guess I should have known better than to have ventured to Washington, DC to clear my head. I went to Washington playing the role as father, spouse and tourist. A funny thing happened on the way to sight see in the district: I could not help but develop a different perspective on the evolution of American history and the role government played along the way.
It started out innocuously. First, there was a quick trip to the Air and Space Museum to reacquaint myself with the tiny dimensions of the Mercury and Gemini capsules; then a swing through a food exhibit at the National Archives, not to mention a quick glimpse of the Constitution; and a compressed trip through the Museum of American History with the expressed intent to see Julia Child’s kitchen.
And there was so much more to ponder, so many classic stories of struggle and accomplishment against the great forces of man and nature. On one extreme, there were immense odds against successful exploration, such as John Glenn in outer space or Louis and Clark mapping the Louisiana Purchase. On the other extreme, there is the plucked determination exhibited by Julia Child in bringing French cuisine to an America weaned on processed foods and TV dinners. In her own kitchen, no less!
Imagination is the fuel for adventure and exploration. It requires individuals who are risk takers and are unafraid to dare. And sometimes it takes the imagination and boldness of government to stoke the fires for the good of the country.
As I walked through the many exhibits in these museums, I was struck by the historic role government played in those things for which it is uniquely capable of sponsoring. Take space exploration, for example. Not the routine launching of satellites, long ago made possible through true investment in this technology, but the hard research that exploration yields that can only be funded by government for the good of the nation. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo yielded Skylab, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. The Lewis and Clark expeditions supported the government vision of westward expansion in support of Manifest Destiny. No private company could legitimately do that. And only the Federal government should be in the business of directing and funding military conflicts of any kind in support of national objectives.
En route to those museums was several blocks worth of marble and granite buildings along Constitution Avenue alongside the Capitol. They were the gatekeepers to the National Mall and all the history, innovation and science that resided therein. They are the House Office buildings named after such notables as Cannon, Rayburn and Longworth. It was a Friday afternoon and there was a whole lot going on in The Hill. The debt limit impasse negotiations were in full flower.
I was suddenly awestruck by the tremendous power our Congress has over our destiny as a nation. They are not merely lawmakers focused on the day-to-day ping-pong match of point/counterpoint. Spending, national debt and taxes dominate the Congressional conversation today. Seen from space, a visitor might think that our destiny as a nation depended solely upon retirement income, childhood obesity and people who own corporate jets. Congress must also be visionaries willing to set a course for a great nation.
Who today is talking about greatness? Who today is talking about the next century? Who today will lead the planet if the United States does not? These conversations are lost amongst the partisan rancor of a warring duopoly of Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. Presidents may come and go but the Congress seems to hang in there forever. It is upon their shoulders that we must place a burden of leadership into the unknown.
We are right to honor our ancestors who forged our history in the crucible of challenge. And, in some small measure, we pay homage to their tenacity with exhibits in our national museums. But it must be so that America’s best chapters are yet to be written. We must be prepared to build more wings on the museums to chronicle the tales of adventure and achievement yet to come. That role falls upon our Congress. We owe it to our posterity to dare mighty things so that the promise of America and our unremitting quest of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness shall never fade into insignificance.