Who Cares Who's Number One?

President Obama, in his State of the Union Address last January, called upon American students, teachers, scientists, and business executives to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”  We are living, the President announced, in a “Sputnik moment.”  As polls show the majority of the country considers the United States to be rather in a Challenger moment, his assertion naturally attracted considerable surprise and attention, much of it critical.  Republicans, dutifully shouldering their white man’s burden as the responsible opposition, countered that a nation with a $14.9 trillion debt can’t afford the kind of investment the President is asking for, including bullet trains and wireless connections to the remotest towns and hamlets in America.  Predictably, the GOP missed the essential question, which is whether a nation with a $14.9 trillion surplus would need a Sputnik moment to beat out every other country in the world in every conceivable field of human endeavor.  A sane person, it seems to me, would conclude that it does not, and go on to examine the heretical notion that the critical importance of being Number One in the world might in fact be a rubbishy idea, the product of a shallow, ignorant, greedy, power-hungry, and demagogic political mind.

Number One is a politicized as well as a political idea, and so it is not surprising to discover...

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