Mr. President, this is not exactly a 'Sputnik moment'
The State of the Union speech revealed again that Obama wants the US to learn from its big economic competitors. That's far different from the cold-war competition with the Soviet threat.
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It’s no longer the “exceptional nation,” as in America’s past, or a “beacon on the hill,” the leader of the free world, or the sole superpower. It is a nation that must try to learn from its top competitors on how they are succeeding.
The more Mr. Obama has traveled overseas, the more he cites foreign lessons for Americans to follow. His State of the Union message summed up this call by claiming the US is now in a “Sputnik moment.” In his interpretation, that means a need for America to innovate and invest its way back to prosperity.
But that historical comparison isn’t quite accurate. The Soviet Union’s surprise missile leap in 1957 was seen back then as more of a military threat that required US dominance in space and missiles. NASA and the moon landing provided spinoffs to the economy, but Sputnik was mainly a cold-war call to arms.
Rather, Obama’s main point may be to draw positive economic lessons from rising powers like China, Japan, Germany, India, or South Korea. Not since the 19th century, when Americans looked so much to Europe as a model, has a US president held up other nations as examples to match.
Read his speeches during his overseas travel and you see how much he wishes that America was more like some countries. After a recent swing through Asia, for example, he said this:
“If you want to know one reason why more companies are choosing to do their research and development in places like China and India, it’s because the United States now ranks 24th out of 38 countries in the generosity of the tax incentives we provide for research and development.” He wants the US to make it easy to patent innovations, as its big competitors do.