Listen to the podcast "A failure of imagination" from the April 21, 2018 episode
The dire warnings of the end of American greatness -- warnings you hear from both the left and the right -- are overstated. We still have a lot of greatness left to build upon. But it's too often and easily forgotten that greatness is built on a foundation of imagination.
We have no shortage of problems in today's complex, crowded, and sometimes confusing world. But those problems are no match for initiative, if we're willing to show it. I submit to you that the most useful thing we could do right now is reinvigorate our national debate with some fresh enthusiasm for tackling big problems.
The fact we don't have a Manhattan Project to put massive resources into eliminating pediatric cancers represents a massive failure of imagination. We, as a country, should have an open wallet (and high expectations) for pursuing every available means to put an end to the thought that any child should die of cancer. The Kinnick Wave shows what a galvanizing force our common concern for sick kids can be.
We should have an appetite to tackle other great problems with unbridled enthusiasm:
- We ought to have a real commitment to getting college costs under control. Inflation is inevitable in many areas, but the inflation in the cost of higher education is totally out of line with other big areas of spending. Whatever is driving the cost disease, the harm is real: Anything that keeps ordinary Americans from having affordable access to education creates an obstacle to economic growth and mobility. It's hard to believe that in the era of the Khan Academy and MIT Open CourseWare that we couldn't break loose some radical new ideas to make the system work better.
- Why we don't do smarter things about rehabilitating ex-cons or making sure young people don't end up without something useful to do? One in every 38 American adults is somewhere in the correctional system. That's a huge waste of human potential.
- There's no excuse why we don't have a plan to protect and resettle refugees from places like Syria. Remember, the United States held more than 400,000 Axis POWs on American soil during WWII. We are not only completely capable of handling surges of newcomers, we have a moral imperative to never, ever repeat the mistakes of the WWII era, when our predecessors closed doors to refugees persecuted and pursued by their own government. A great nation can't put cowardice ahead of compassion for those who are oppressed.
Too many of our problems are solvable, but face a severe deficit of interest in solving them. We ought to turn that around, and with a sense of urgency. America is a great nation -- but greatness isn't something to be recovered from the past. It's earned, refreshed, and expanded upon in the present and into the future. We can't do that without an investment of imagination.