Are we willing to accept today’s challenges?

July 20, 1969. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those were the words of Neil Armstrong spoken 50 years ago as his foot touched the ground on the lunar surface. America celebrated in unity. That didn’t happen by accident. Armed with less technology than a modern day cell phone and charged with a seemingly unimaginable task, America responded by taking the lead in the race for space.

How did that happen?

President John F. Kennedy, eight years earlier, stood before Congress on May 25, 1961, saying we “should commit to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Kennedy believed the race for space, which we were loosing to the Russians, was critical in so many ways.

Kennedy: “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept…”

Challenged by a president with true vision, America responded and on July 20, 1969, we heard the now-famous words by Armstrong: “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”

Today — in our hateful political climate of racial tweets and members of Congress spending their valuable time voting on resolutions calling the president a racist — it is hard to imagine America being capable of rallying around any single idea. My, how far have we fallen in the last 50 years.

Where are the leaders with true vision? Where are the leaders who spend their time and energy uniting us in a common cause? Where are the leaders today who should be inspiring us to achieve what others only dream of?

Our national elected leaders are a disgrace. Faced with today’s challenges, they have proven time and time again they are incapable of addressing the real issues that affect real Americans day after day. Issues like crumbling national infrastructure, $22 trillion and soon to be $23 trillion in national debt that our children and grandchildren will spend a lifetime coping with. Issues like seeing busloads of Americans going to Canada to buy their life-sustaining medications because they are becoming unaffordable here. Issues like Social Security and Medicare going broke. Issues like immigration laws unfit for a 21st century society.

Am I wrong? Do you see national leaders with a coherent and inspiring vision for our nation’s energy policy for the next decade or two? Do you see any leaders who are willing to inspire us to live within our means as a nation and stop placing our insane debt onto our kids?

Here’s what I see: national leaders with a microscopic vision that only goes out as far as the next election. I see partisan politics that do nothing but divide the country into tiny little segments only so the parties can harvest them on Election Day.

Finally, I can only imagine what our country could be if we would lay down the zealotry of party politics and devote all that energy, knowledge, drive and ambition into challenging us as a free people to accept the fact we have problems and issues that need immediate attention and that we can do anything we set our mind to if we choose to work together, not as a party but as citizens of this great country.

Kennedy’s plan to land on the moon wasn’t universally praised. Yes, there were distracters saying it was too expensive or it would take away from building our military, but Kennedy was steadfast and rallied the American people to get behind him, and we did. Fifty years have passed since we realized Kennedy’s vision. It inspired an entire generation to do the impossible, to achieve what had only been a dream, and to come together in a common cause.

I want our next leaders to not be blinded by partisanship, not look at us as people of color, or religious beliefs, not judge us on gender or sexual preference, but to look at us as Americans one and all. I want them to inspire us, to unite us, and give us the vision of what we can achieve if we choose to act as one.

Now, I ask you, is that too much to ask for? Tell me what you think at gregawtry@awtry.com.

Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at gregawtry@awtry.com.