A Great Loss For Man . . . And Mankind

Neil Armstrong has died.  He was a native Ohioan, a fine fighter pilot, a Korean War veteran, a successful businessman — but he will forever be remembered as the first man to set foot on the Moon.

On July 20, 1969, millions of people around the world watched with hope and anticipation as Armstrong backed down the ladder of the Eagle landing craft, moving slowly in his bulky white space suit adorned with an American flag.  When he finally put his boot print on the lunar surface — and made his famous, crackly statement, “That’s one small step for man . . . one giant leap for mankind” — every American felt a huge rush of national pride.

It was a magnificent achievement, and Armstrong’s humble, moving words captured the moment, and the emotions, perfectly.  Those of us who watched that grainy broadcast live will never forget it.  The fact that Armstrong was an Ohioan just made the moment a little sweeter.

Neil Armstrong’s legacy cannot be separated from Apollo 11, its historic lunar landing, and the boot print he left on the Moon’s dusty surface, but he was an interesting, and estimable, person for other reasons.  A private person, Armstrong never tried to cash in on his fame or take advantage of the circumstances that made him the first man on the Moon.  When he returned from the lunar surface he worked for NASA, taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati,  served on corporate boards and investigatory commissions, and spoke out in favor of space exploration — and he did it all without fanfare.

Neil Armstrong was 82.  He will be missed.

Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Four Years Ago?

Anyone who lived through the 1980 presidential election remembers the very basic question:  “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  Ronald Reagan used that question — and the anticipated answer of most Americans — to devastating effect against incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

President Obama had better hope voters don’t ask themselves that question this year, because new economic data analyzed by former Census Department statisticians at the Sentier Research firm reveals that the answers of most Americans are not going to be favorable.  The data shows that, amazingly, median household income fell more during the “recovery” from June 2009 to June 2012 than it did during the preceding recession.  What’s more, the drop in median household income happened across the board, in virtually every demographic group.

For example, family households lost 4.7 percent; people who live alone lost 7.5 percent. Households headed by African-Americans lost 11.1 percent. The income in married-couple households dropped 3.6 percent. Households headed by full-time workers lost 5.1 percent. People with “some college, no degree” lost 9.3 percent, people with associate’s degrees lost 8.6 percent, high school grads lost 6.9 percent, and people with bachelor’s degrees or more lost 5.9 percent.

The only group that came our ahead during the period from June 2009 to June 2012 was senior citizens.   The incomes of those between the ages of 65 to 74 grew by 6.5 percent, and the incomes of those over 75 increased by 2.8 percent.

The Sentier Research findings help to illustrate just how bad the performance of our economy has been during recent years.  There have been lots of losers and few winners — not exactly the record that an incumbent President would want to run on.  When almost everyone has taken a big hit to the pocketbook, it’s not easy to convince them that, bad as things are, they would be even worse if you hadn’t been in charge.

The President’s Ego

Republicans are making sport of a comment made by President Obama at a recent fundraiser featuring NBA athletes.  “It is very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth or sixth most interesting person,” the President reportedly joked.  Republicans and conservatives are citing the comment to lampoon the President’s ego — which they want to depict as enormous.

Obviously, Presidents must be self-confident to be successful.  It’s a demanding job; the individual who fills it has to be decisive, and a big part of being decisive is having confidence in your judgment.   You don’t want someone who is wringing their hands about every decision.  That’s one reason why people were so concerned about President Carter’s famous retreat to Camp David, where he seemed to be inviting advice from every Tom, Dick and Harry about how to get the country headed in the right direction.  Americans wondered whether the President had lost his nerve — and that possibility made people very uneasy.

Of course, you’d like to think that the President isn’t an arrogant SOB, either.  We want Presidents who are humble about being chosen to lead us and modest about their ability to perform the various tasks required of The Most Powerful Man in the World.  Presidents shouldn’t be know-it-alls; they clearly need to be willing to listen and learn about a broad range of topics from subject matter experts.  And conceit and narcissism aren’t very attractive qualities, in a President or anyone else. There’s a reason why pride is the first of the seven deadly sins.

I think there’s a fine line here, and President Obama should be paying careful attention to it.  Polling data shows that even people who don’t agree with his positions on the issues often still say they like him, personally.  That’s an important attribute going into what looks like it will be a close election.  If I were the President, I’d leave the jokes about how fascinating and interesting he is on the cutting room floor — at least until after Election Day.