Campaign '08

A familiar anecdote

There was a little frisson online this evening as people watching the video introducing Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama noticed Obama mentioned seeing Apollo astronauts return to Hawaii with his grandfather. His grandfather told him, Obama recalled, that this was evidence that Americans could do anything they put their minds to. Naturally, space enthusiasts got all excited: Obama’s talking about space (if indirectly) at the convention!

Of course, this is hardly the first time Obama has told that story.

He did use it in preface to his discussion of space policy in Titusville early this month, as this video shows:

(Scroll ahead to about 25 seconds in). What he said then:

I still remember sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders as some of the astronauts were brought in after their capsules had landed in the middle of the Pacific. And I could just barely see them; I was waving at them an American flag. And I remember my grandfather explaining to me, “This is what America’s all about, we can do anything when we put out minds to it.”

Obama also used the same anecdote in a major speech in late June on patriotism in Missouri:

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders and watching the astronauts come to shore in Hawaii. I remember the cheers and small flags that people waved, and my grandfather explaining how we Americans could do anything we set our minds to do. That’s my idea of America.

So be careful about reading too much into that little story in the video.

17 comments to A familiar anecdote

  • anonymous.space

    My anecdote to this anecdote is that I had to look up the definition of “frisson”! ;)

    FWIW…

  • Doug Lassiter

    Not sure what we should “be careful” about here. Obama stated, very simply, that astronauts returning from space got people excited, and were symbolic of America doing great things. That’s not about Constellation, or about the Moon, or about funding augmentation for the space agency. It’s about how human space travel influenced him personally in a memorable and positive way. It was important to him.

    BTW, did you notice Hillary Clinton’s repeated references to astronauts in her presentation in Denver? Not really about space, but about achievement. That was noteworthy. She specifically chose human spaceflight to express a point of great pride. It was important to her.

    I’ll be listening to McCain.

    Yeah, someone will trot out Obama’s five year delay, and taking Constellation funds and use them for preschools. Bring it on. But that idea wasn’t entirely inconsistent with the idea of inspiration from human space travel and, as has been pointed out repeatedly in these comments, clearly retracted. As a result, pretty irrelevant. Oops. Flip flop alert!!! (Well, actually just a flip. Not a flop.)

  • Many politicians like to point to Apollo as something that was inspiring, but it’s almost always to inspire people to do something having nothing to do with space.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Many politicians like to point to Apollo as something that was inspiring, but it’s almost always to inspire people to do something having nothing to do with space.

    Very true. But that makes it all the more powerful, no? Unless, of course, you believe that human space exploration is an endeavor with the highest national priority. It is not. For a presidential candidate to acknowledge that investment in space exploration is a way to motivate citizens, and to explicitly choose it as an example of inspiration in one of the most important speeches of their lives — that’s pretty good stuff.

  • Chuck2200

    Doug;
    Yeah, someone will trot out Obama’s five year delay, and taking Constellation funds and use them for preschools. Bring it on. But that idea wasn’t entirely inconsistent with the idea of inspiration from human space travel and, as has been pointed out repeatedly in these comments, clearly retracted. As a result, pretty irrelevant. Oops. Flip flop alert!!! (Well, actually just a flip. Not a flop.)

    I’m not sure I would classify that as a flip flop, or even a flip, at least not in the sense that the phrase is meant to be used in the political context, and that’s the key to my point of view. It’s more of an evolution, because he still intends to get the same amount of funding he was talking about for his pre-K educations programs; he just has said it won’t come from NASA’s budget as previously intended.

    He began with the same viewpoint that the vast majority of Americans have; that NASA’s budget is bloated and wasteful, and therefore that it can be exploited for other purposes without actually hurting NASA, something that he did not his intention. After Senator Nelson, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Lori Garver got to him with a reality check, he expanded his science staff with knowledgeable people, instructed them to get the real stuff for him, and then, once he had that in hand, revised his position accordingly. It’s an example of a man realizing that he may have been wrong, taking steps to find out, and then adjusting his position based on verified facts. I find that refreshing, especially in an era where we have an administration that has been caught skewing the facts to make them support a desired position.

    I really would not call Obama’s position change a flip flop in light of this. It’s an example of responsible action.

  • ctyri

    Thanks, I’ll “be careful” about reading too much into the fact that Apollo inspired Mr. Obama. As others have said, the Moon missions were a time of validation of what Americans could do when the country sets forth a goal, during a period in which so many had become cynical (and rightfully so) of America’s goals and ability to achieve those goals (Cold War, Vietnam, Civil Rights, etc.). The anecdote is thus very general in nature and may be as applicable (perhaps more so) to fixing our education system, our health care system, addressing global warming, etc., rather than going to a another rock (or back to the same rock) and planting an American flag.

  • Jeff Foust

    Not sure what we should “be careful” about here.

    Some people got excited about the reference, thinking, perhaps, that it was the first time he had told this story (and thus may have some significance to his thoughts about space policy), when it fact it was a stock tale he had used a number of times in the past, including before he unveiled his new space policy.

    At the very least, I’m helping contribute to the growth of readers’ vocabularies.

  • ctyri

    OK, gotcha, Jeff. Thanks.

  • Spacer

    Apollo was also used as justification for the Great Society. Yet few if any of the advocates of the Great Society believed that NASA should have gotten more money even in the 1960′s. Indeed, most believed just the opposite. So space advocates really need to stop swooning every time Apollo is mentioned as being a model for doing something. It makes them look like a bunch of star-struck tweens swooning over the latest Disney invented rock star.

  • The anecdote is thus very general in nature and may be as applicable (perhaps more so) to fixing our education system, our health care system, addressing global warming, etc., rather than going to a another rock (or back to the same rock) and planting an American flag.

    It’s actually not applicable at all to those problems.

  • ctyri

    Rand: “It’s actually not applicable at all to those problems.”

    To say Apollo means we can solve anything is of course silly. To say Apollo is an example of what can be done when the nation sets a great task as a national priority and properly supports it with real resources rather than lip service, is totally reasonable.

  • Yeah, someone will trot out Obama’s five year delay, and taking Constellation funds and use them for preschools. Bring it on. But that idea wasn’t entirely inconsistent with the idea of inspiration from human space travel and, as has been pointed out repeatedly in these comments, clearly retracted. As a result, pretty irrelevant. Oops. Flip flop alert!!! (Well, actually just a flip. Not a flop.)

    How is cutting Constellation by 85% for 5 years, effectively killing the manned Space program beyond LEO, never mind the devastating economic impact such a move would reap to the Space Coast of Florida, Huntsville, Michoud, and Stennis consistent with the idea of inspiration from human Space flight? How is wrecking our Space workforce consistent with the idea of inspiration from human Space flight? And just think for a second the cavalier attitude towards those areas and those workers that Senator Obama’s suggested, though recently changed, policy took. He was telling Americans for 17 months that he was going to throw those areas and those people under the bus, all in the name of pre-school education.

    When is a change from wanting to cut 85% of Constellation funding to now wanting a $2 Billion budget increase in such funding not a flip-flop?

    Yes, Obama retracted the Space policy he advocated during the 17 month Democratic primary season–that was done to win Florida and the White House. But what has Senator Obama done since that turn-around on Space funding that shows he gets it? What’s his view on continuing the Shuttle program so that the U.S. has manned Space access independent of Russia? Why have he and his campaign been silent on this?

  • anonymous.space

    “How is cutting Constellation by 85%”

    What is the source for this 85% figure? You used it in another thread and never stated where it came from. To my knowledge, the Obama (or any other) campaign has never used an 85% figure in reference to any NASA program cut or add.

    “When is a change from wanting to cut 85% of Constellation funding to now wanting a $2 Billion budget increase in such funding not a flip-flop?”

    I personally don’t like how the Obama campaign has proposed to spend the $2 billion, but at least their current position is consistent.

    The McCain campaign still has unretracted statements about freezing the discretionary budget and reviewing those programs for cuts that directly contradict the one statement given by McCain on a bus tour about matching the Obama campaign’s $2 billion. It also contradicts the $20 billion-plus that will be needed to keep Shuttle operational through 2015 if McCain were to carry through on his recent letter to the White House.

    I’m not trying to be mean, but the McCain campaign has been sending mixed signals for a long time now. Which is it? Will the NASA budget be frozen and get reviewed for program cuts under a McCain White House? Will NASA get a one-time infusion of $2 billion under a McCain White House? Or will NASA get a whopping $20 billion plus-up over five years to keep Shuttle operational during the first term of the McCain White House? And if Shuttle flights do continue past 2010, but there is not a $20 billion plus-up, what other programs at NASA will the McCain White House cut to pay for the continued Shuttle operations?

    “What’s his view on continuing the Shuttle program… Why have he and his campaign been silent on this?”

    They havn’t been. I don’t agree with it, but the Obama campaign has promised to add at least one more Shuttle flight.

    It’s fine to criticize campaign positions, but we should get our facts straight and sourced before doing so.

    FWIW…

  • I’d like to take this opportunity to say to all “I told you!!!!!!!”

    Months ago as the space community was flipping out at the prospect of an Obama presidency. I said in here, and everywhere else I could post it/say it, “someone needs to sit Obama down and make the argument for space exploration in the best way possible.”
    Thankfully they did.

    Chuck2200 said :

    “He began with the same viewpoint that the vast majority of Americans have; that NASA’s budget is bloated and wasteful, and therefore that it can be exploited for other purposes without actually hurting NASA, something that he did not his intention. After Senator Nelson, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Lori Garver got to him with a reality check, he expanded his science staff with knowledgeable people, instructed them to get the real stuff for him, and then, once he had that in hand, revised his position accordingly. It’s an example of a man realizing that he may have been wrong, taking steps to find out, and then adjusting his position based on verified facts. I find that refreshing, especially in an era where we have an administration that has been caught skewing the facts to make them support a desired position.

    I really would not call Obama’s position change a flip flop in light of this. It’s an example of responsible action”
    Well said sir.

  • Jack Burton

    After the whole Hillary named after Sir Edmund debacle, I am cynical

    Which lunar crew/crews could he have seen?

    Was he living in Hawaii at the time to be able to do so?

    Or in Indonesia?

  • Doug Lassiter

    I really would not call Obama’s position change a flip flop in light of this. It’s an example of responsible action.

    Precisely right. And yes, well said. I was being facetious. This emphasis on flipping and flopping in the world of politics is a sadly simplistic way of judging a person that is becoming almost reflexive in its use. That someone changed their mind after more careful consideration, or clarified a point that was misstated, is completely defensible, and deserves some respect. I guess when someone changes their mind a lot, one could start to wonder about the person, but this accusation is used these days with a hair trigger.

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