An American born to a 17-year-old mother, adopted at the age of 4 by her newly-wedded Cuban immigrant husband and raised in middle-class circumstances in Texas and Florida, gave a valedictory speech at his high-school graduation speech in 1982. His goal in life, Jeff Bezos said, was to colonize space.
On Tuesday, Bezos blasted off into the upper atmosphere on a craft he paid for in part with the unprecedented fortune he has made as the greatest retailer of the 21st century. History may record not that Bezos created Amazon, but rather that he was our age’s Magellan.
Following the trip into space last week by fellow billionaire Richard Branson, and in the wake of fellow billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches, Bezos’s flight has now solidified a future that will feature private-sector exploration of the universe beyond the earth and sea.
Sixty years ago, John F. Kennedy called it “the New Frontier.” Now the new frontier is being explored not only by governments but by wealthy explorers — people willing to put their fortunes (and, incidentally, their lives) on the line to expand the borders of human possibility.
The manned missions of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the more recent unmanned excursions to Mars and the discoveries of the Hubble telescope, have had the glorious effect of inspiring wealthy entrepreneurs like Bezos who are driven by an overwhelmingly optimistic sense of the transformative potential of human technological achievement.
The changes in human destiny these trips portend are astonishing.
And how was Bezos greeted by the cognoscenti? With dripping scorn and contempt, of course.
Here’s a headline on Rolling Stone’s website: “Jeff Bezos Uses Money to Spew Emissions Directly Into Upper Atmosphere During Space Trip.”
What about Democratic politicians? Here was Rep. Katherine Clark, one of the leaders of the House of Representatives: “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know it’s time for billionaires to pay their fair share.” Fellow Democratic Rep Pramila Jayapal: “Billionaires will try ANYTHING to avoid paying their fair shares in taxes. It’s time for a wealth tax.”
In point of fact, Bezos paid $1.4 billion in taxes between 2006 and 2018. That may not be enough for Reps. Clark and Jayapal, because for leftist politicians the correct tax rate on the wealthy is probably around 100 percent, but still seems like rather a lot to me and probably to most rational people.
Here’s Rep. Mark Pocan: “2.2 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water….but, hooray! Another billionaire just made it to the edge of space.”
Pocan is a fool. If billions are suffering on earth, one of the ways to help alleviate and conquer that suffering in the future is through the technological innovations that will be the offshoots and products of what Bezos and his fellow explorers are making possible today.
One politician who did not indulge in this nihilistic blather was the president of the United States. “This is a moment of American exceptionalism,” said his press secretary, Jen Psaki, in response to the flight.
That’s the right take. Maybe his fellow Democrats listen — and delete their misbegotten Twitter accounts.