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The Hubble vs to Hobble

May 21, 2009

Daniel Henninger contrasts the way extraordinary, ordinary people’s ingenuity and approach to challenges with the Obama administration’s theory on what makes societies thrive and points out that the latter threatens to choke the former:

Lessons abound in what one witnessed during the 11-day mission to restore the legendary Hubble, which ends tomorrow when the astronauts land in Florida. Here’s one: Like the Hubble team, try to be lucky enough once in life to be part of a great project worked by great people — the early Microsoft or Genentech, the Manhattan Project, the 1927 New York Yankees, many now-gone Wall Street financial “shops” at the top of their game, or the Iraq surge. It’s an ethos of team-driven possibility caught in the famous title of a book, “The Soul of a New Machine.”

The mortal enemy of all this is bureaucracy. The Hubble project’s struggle not to be strangled by bureaucracy was conveyed last year in a stirring history, and cautionary tale, by Robert Zimmerman — “The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It.” Worth a read.

Across 20 years, several thousand very smart people worked on the Hubble project which, easy to forget, was always a line-item in the federal budget. As one of Mr. Zimmerman’s reviewers noted, if the Hubble itself hadn’t been so compelling, the political system would have killed it. Men broke themselves, their friends and families to get that thing into space.

The magnificence of Servicing Mission 4 is ended, and it’s back to earth, where we read that the Obama administration may create a new regulator for consumer financial products.

I imagine the Obama inner circle thinks of itself as a smart, once-in-a-lifetime team of visionaries who will build and leave behind great things. It is ironic, or at least unusual, that their creations will be several large new bureaucracies. They call them “investments in the future.”

The intense interest in our politics today is over whether that is true. Whether the soul of a new bureaucracy really can lead men to dream about, and work to create, the next Hubble.

And here is an illustration on how even Obama’s judicial philosophy might not be quite the type of thinking that gets great things done.

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