One can say that a President’s worth is measured in how they handle tragedy and adversity. One need not look back to Abraham Lincoln or FDR to search for examples. Images of GW Bush standing on the rubble of the Twin Towers assuring the firefighters still sifting through the heated rubble for their lost brethren that they ones who knocked these buildings down will “hear from all of us soon.”
“I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
But it wasn’t that moment that I wanted to reflect upon today. On this day, 30 years ago, one of the worst tragedies occurred in American Aerospace exploration.
At 11:38 a.m. EST, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, won a competition that earned her a place among the seven-member crew of the Challenger. She underwent months of shuttle training but then, beginning January 23, was forced to wait six long days as the Challenger‘s launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off.
Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle exploded in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.
If you are too young to remember, Space Shuttle Flights were still a relatively new thing and a big deal. People watched on television, counting down in time with ground control and sat in awe at the power of the rockets as they fought all that gravity had to offer.
It was later discovered that the want of an expanded O-ring to one of the rockets caused the chain reaction leading to the explosion. Literally a part that costs pennies at the store didn’t expand properly because of cold temperatures on that January morning in Florida.
But I digress. Whereas today we have a President who would blame the American drive for excellence and the lack of multi national participation in our space program as the cause, or that space flight is in someway an insult to Allah, 30 years ago we had a real American President who united the country in its time of grief and gave solace to a wounded nation with his words.
President Reagan gave his address later in the day. He didn’t wait for polls, or to see what the optics were. He didn’t decide to play golf or ignore the situation and hope it went away. His response was as immediate as it was touching and beautiful.
I was one of those school children who was watching on that day. And instead of being scarred for life about seeing 7 people explode on live tv. But President Reagan’s speech gave a young boy solace and hope for the future and an understanding what it meant to be brave and the cost it sometimes envokes.
I pity the children of today, who don’t have a President like that, who have to hear that every tragedy that befalls this nation is somehow our fault.
If the response to tragedy is a scale on which to weigh the worth of a President, then I find President Obama wanting. And that’s just measuring him on his own.
I dare not even compare him to a man like President Reagan.