The New York Times’ derisive response to the 50th Anniversary of America’s triumphant landing on the Moon made the blood of many people boil, but really wasn’t anything new.
The liberalism of the American Establishment moved significantly in the direction of the rancid radical Left in the six years between the death of JFK and the Apollo space crew’s moon landing. Even as far back in 1969, as Steven Hayward notes, the liberals were turning against the Space Program.
[W]e shouldnâ€™t underestimate how dramatically liberals turned against the Apollo project at the moment of its triumphâ€”a sign of the larger collapse of liberalism in the 1960s. The moon landing had been set out as a lofty goal by the liberalsâ€™ hero, John F. Kennedy, and the moon landing was an occasion of national pride and celebration for most Americans. Here, amidst the rubble and gloom of the 1960s, was something that had gone splendidly right. Many leading liberals, however, could only sniff that while the moon landing was undeniably impressive, the money for the moon landing would have been better spent on social problems on Earth. The popular clichÃ© of the time went: â€œAny nation that can land a man on the moon can [fill in the blank].â€ (The total cost of the decade-long moon landing project was less than three monthsâ€™ worth of federal spending for social programs in 1969.)
Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said that â€œThe needs of the people on earth, and especially in this country, should have priority. When we solve these problems, we can consider space efforts.â€ Even the brother of the man who issued the call to go to the moon, Sen. Ted Kennedy, expressed weariness with the space program: â€œI think after [the moon landing] the space program ought to fit into our other national priorities.â€
This may have been the moment when liberalism certified that it had become a crabbed and negative force in American life. It has never recovered.