March 30, 2009
A New Birth of Freedom
When Brooklyn and New York’s population was booming at the end of the 19th century, the best way to get to and from Brooklyn was via ferries. As solutions were considered, I’m sure there were those who simply thought, “More boats!” These ardent defenders of the status quo were not engineers — they were the business. Their goal was not to build something great, but to make a profit.
It was an engineer named John Roebling who proposed a suspension bridge. We take bridges for granted now, but back in the 1800s, bridges were in beta. They fell. One out of every four bridges… fell. He convinced them by designing a bridge half again as big as any before it that was six times stronger than he estimated it need to be. Roebling designed the complete specification for the bridge in a mere three months and then died of tetanus from an injury he received surveying the bridge site…
We are defined by what we build. It’s not just the engineering ambition that designed these structures, nor the 20 people who died building the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that we believe we can and decide to act. I’m happy to report our new President agrees when he says,
“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”
Someone, sometime soon is going to start describing the climb out of this impressive hole we’ve dug for ourselves, and they’re going to call it “America 2.0”. Clever, yes. We need a new version of ourselves and that’s going to involve bright, unexpected ideas from those we least expect them from, and they’re going to strike you as impossible. All you need to do to understand these terrifyingly ambitious ideas is to look back at what we’ve already done to understand what we can do.
I don’t know what version of America we’re on. But this is a heartening idea. And the fact that we’ve built and rebuilt ourselves not just once, but many times over, is heartening too.