Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away today at the age of 82. The relevancy to a health blog might be tenuous, but hear me out.
My sense is that his legacy is bigger than space, than exploration, than science and technology. My takeaway is that landing on the moon was a rebuke to the corrosive cynicism that too often infiltrates our public life–the sense that problems are insoluble, that our systems are too broken and/or corrupt, that there’s nothing we can do. This goes beyond politics, but it is sometimes expressed by a discouragement from participation and even voting to begin with, or in a political stance that would rather seek a tax cut than attempt to solve our big and serious national problems.
Armstrong was a living testament of a nation’s (and, yes, a government’s) ablity to solve a problem, to reach a goal. I was a baby when the Apollo missions ended, yet I’ve heard throughout my life, in contexts far and wide, the saying, “if we can put a man on the moon, we can…” It’s oft-repeated because it is right, and no more so than in health care.
If we can put a man on the moon, we can get health coverage and care to all our fellow Americans. It’s not a small undertaking–implementing the existing Affordable Care Act might compete with NASA for the number of acronyms employes, and technical decisions that need to be made–each with significant consequences.
I think some of the concern over the ACA stems from general cynicism about Congress, government, and large systems. So I hope people can look at the success in getting a man on the moon, as they look to believe that our health system can be improved, and look at the benefits of the new health law here in California with a less cynical eye.