Jonah Goldberg

It's a sign of how tinny and uninspiring President Obama's State of the Union address was that a week later it all seems so forgettable.

Let's see, there was something about high-speed rail and a lot more spending ("investing," in Washington-speak). There was the theme, "Winning the Future," a term that apparently focus-grouped so well that nobody in the White House bothered to look up the fact that Newt Gingrich has written a book by the same title and all but copyrighted the buzz-phrase.

And then there was all that stuff about Sputnik.

The president insisted, as he has done before, that this is "our generation's Sputnik moment" where we must galvanize the whole society with common purpose. (He left unclear what this means for those still-living Americans whose generation's "Sputnik moment" was, well, Sputnik. Maybe they can sit this one out.)

Indeed, to hear Obama tell it, he has sounded the warning bell. We must lay down our proverbial shovels and hoes and run in from the fields to take our instruction from President Obama on how to deal with the current crisis.

Which crisis is that? You might think that he was referring to the fact that the country is flooding with red ink (according to the Congressional Budget Office, this will be our third consecutive year with a deficit above $1 trillion), and that everyone needs to help bail out the USS America before she capsizes. You might think his calls for unity might have something to do with the fact that we're fighting two wars and are under the constant threat of Islamic terrorism.

But, no. Apparently, our Sputnik moment requires that we launch an updated arms race with China, but instead of bombs and tanks, we must build windmills and brew the government moonshine we call ethanol.

No metaphor can withstand too much scrutiny. But Obama's effort to recast America's plight as a replay of the last Sputnik moment fails in every intended regard.

According to Obama, China is eating our lunch at conservation and the all-important green energy business, where all the new good jobs will come from in the 21st century. He said during the State of the Union that China has built the world's biggest solar energy research facility (apparently, when it comes to solar research, size is everything). Therefore, America needs to revive what many liberals have long claimed was the Cold War hysteria that fueled the first space race, after the Soviets stunned America by launching the utterly useless satellite called "Sputnik."

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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