A watershed moment

In 1957, the Soviet launching of Sputnik shocked the United States into action on the science, technology, and education fronts. As the nation attempts to slowly rebound from a prolonged, severe recession, perhaps China will be America’s 21st century Sputnik.

In a recent op-ed at the New York Times, Thomas Friedman asked a critical question:  What’s our Sputnik?  This question is especially relevant for independent voters, since they now comprise the largest percentage of the national electorate. The answer to this existential question will likely determine the destiny of the United States over the next few decades.

Friedman conjures up images of the Soviet-American space race and offers up two, divergent paths for Americans living in the 21st century.   Either we can continue to focus exclusively on the War on Terror, spend unlimited trillions on a worldwide empire we can no longer afford, and maintain a crippling dependence on foreign oil, or we can transition to a more limited, cost-effective foreign policy and make science, technology, infrastructure, education, and energy independence our 21st century Sputnik.  According to Friedman, time constraints and gargantuan debt dictate that we choose one or the other.  In other words, expanding upon Friedman’s premise a bit further, either we choose Al-Qaeda or China as our modern Sputnik.

But, why China?

In two, recent blogs (here and here), I documented China’s explosive economic rise.  While California and the United States continue to fall behind in multiple economic metrics, China is breaking new records.  As America languishes in massive debt and a severe recession, China is closing its poverty gap, revamping its infrastructure, educating more and more of its citizens in the hard sciences, leading the way in alternative energy technologies, becoming a manufacturing powerhouse, modernizing its military, and slowly decoupling from its currency & trading dependence on the US.  As Friedman aptly points out, while the US focuses on Al-Qaeda, China focuses on China.  While the US spends trillions on Afghanistan & Iraq, China focuses its energies on defeating one opponent:  the United States.  

And Friedman isn’t the only one calling our attention to this emerging trend.  The Independent Forum has sounded the alarm bells over China’s rise to power and its potential ramifications for US global hegemony.  A recent entry identified six economic and security trends to closely monitor, while an older entry covered China’s latest, record-breaking economic achievements.  

While Friedman’s op-ed contains clear-cut partisanship, his substantive points are worthy of consideration.  America is at a crossroads.  It is in desperate need of a new Sputnik.  Will it be the War on Terror or China? Al-Qaeda or America? Having borrowed and spent ourselves into oblivion, we can no longer afford the luxury of devoting trillions of dollars to dual priorities. One must wax, as the other wanes (in terms of expenditures, for as even Friedman points out, the US must maintain its security while working toward greater economic development).  

CAIVN has also been at the forefront of this critical debate.  Progressive Democrat, Marcy Winograd, proposed the “Green New Deal” as a potential solution for resolving this pressing dilemma.  I examined independent progressive Ralph Nader’s budgetary and strategic arguments for a more fiscally responsible and prioritized economic strategy.  While covering the Tea Party, I happened to mention Dr. Ron Paul, a staunch conservative who advocates balanced budgets and a more limited, cost effective foreign policy.

Critics may consider these political figures to be “fringe”, but isn’t it the “mainstream” politicians, in both parties, who are largely responsible for the predicament we find ourselves in at the present moment?  Perhaps it’s time America starts thinking outside the box.  Perhaps it’s time for a brand new vision.

Sputnik redefined America in 1957.  In Friedman’s op-ed, he cites Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert, Michael Mandelbaum, who states, “Our response to Sputnik made us better educated, more productive, more technologically advanced and more ingenious…Our investments in science and education spread throughout American society, producing the internet, more students studying math and people genuinely wanting to build the nation.”

America needs a new Sputnik, and I believe that independents will have to lead this monumental endeavor.  The movement has taken root and a (peaceful) revolution appears to be brewing, but the next few years will be pivotal.  China is rising, as we are falling, and unless independent-minded voters demand drastic action and a bold new vision, the status quo will find America on the short-end of the stick much sooner than it ever could have imagined.