November 22nd, 2009 is the 46th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Those of us alive at the time know exactly what we were doing on that tragic occasion. I recall that I was in elementary school at the time; we were called in from recess and informed of the tragedy (yes, elementary schools actually had recess back then). We sensed it was a somber occasion, though most of us at the school did not grasp the full magnitude of the event until much later. As time passed, many of us also sensed that America the superpower lost much of its innocence and confidence on that day as well. From a constitutional republic that was the envy and admiration of the world at the time, we began our slow descent towards a corrupt empire earning the hatred and contempt of much of the planet today.
But many may not remember that John F. Kennedy was concerned about Alaska as well. Kennedy actually visited Alaska; he was at the Edgewater Hotel in Anchorage. And on September 3rd, 1960, while he was still Senator Kennedy, he delivered a message to Alaskans far different than what we hear today. It was a gospel of progression, NOT regression. It was a message of CAN, not CAN'T. The full transcript of Kennedy's speech is available HERE; the most pertinent parts are posted below:
But I see another Alaska - the Alaska of the future. I see a land of over one million people. I see a giant electric grid stretching from Juneau to Anchorage and beyond. I see the greatest dam in the free world at Rampart Canyon, producing twice the power of TVA to light homes and mills and cities and farms all over Alaska. I see a network of paved highways and modern airports linking every city and section of this state. I see Alaska as the destination of countless Americans - seeing not only land and gold, as in days of old, but seeking a new life, new cities, new markets, new vacation spots. And I see an Alaska that is the storehouse of the nation, rich in timber, rich in minerals, rich in fisheries, rich in water power and rich in the blessings of liberty as well as abundance.
For the Alaska I see is not the Alaska of a "no new starts" policy. It will not come about when forests and fisheries are being depleted, highways are being neglected and water power is going to waste. It will not come about as long as Alaska faces drastic discrimination under the Federal Highway Act - or is saddled with extra-high ocean shipping rates. And it will not come about under an Administration that acts only through the negative, empty, arbitrary method of Presidential vetoes.
It is time for this country to start moving again - and time for Alaska to start moving with it. We are not going to be deterred by those who scoff at our plans and programs. They called TVA Pie in the Sky. They called Grand Coulee and Bonneville Pie in the Sky. It is only natural for them to call Rampart Canyon Pie in the Sky - and to shrink from the gigantic tasks required to give this state the transportation network and other essentials it needs.
These needs and these programs are cast in huge dimensions. But so is the state of Alaska. And the Scriptures tell us of the time when "there were giants in the earth." And I sincerely believe that Ernest Gruening and Bob Bartlett and Bill Egan and Ralph Rivers and in a sense, all of the people of Alaska, are giants in a giant land.
That is what this state needs. And that is what our country needs. This is not time for trivia. This is not time for petty complaints and halfway measures. This is a time for giants - for doers instead of talkers - a time for the great-hearted, not the faint-hearted.
I give you the call of the New Frontier - and I call for your help on the Last Frontier. Together, in a common effort for the common cause, I know we can prevail.
Unfortunately, we Alaskans hear a message of CAN'T nowadays. We can't open the Pebble mine because it might kill a few fish. We can't open ANWR because the caribou might run a few stop signs and get run over. We can't build a bridge across the Knik Arm because it might cause the value of Sheila Selkregg's trophy home to stop rising. We can't build a road to Cordova because some of those klutzy RV'ers who spend scads of money and contribute to our prosperity might "corrupt" us. We can't allow the cruise ships to ply our waters because they might drop an occasional turd in the Gulf of Alaska. We can't build a road to Juneau because OMG, there are over 60 avalanche chutes and it's just too hard. And we can't let the Big Three oil producers who have the Alaskan experience build a workable natural gas pipeline because, heaven forbid...they might actually make a profit in exchange for the risks, so we freeze them out with a couple of abortions called ACES and AGIA.
What will we tell those who went before us when we finish our mortal mission and return to the next world? When those who built the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, our impressive superhighway network and so much of our other infrastructure ask us what we built, will we tell them "Duh, well, we didn't build jack shit because we were too busy protecting the fishies and the cute widdle teddy bears and the fragile wildflowers and worshipping the sunrise..."? How will these courageous men and women who went before us, risking health and life to build America's infrastructure, react when we feed them such limp-wristed drivel?
With justifiable contempt, no doubt.
We did not build this country on "CAN'T". We did not become a superpower with "CAN'T". We cannot make this state an economic powerhouse with "CAN'T". Implementing JFK's vision requires a "CAN" attitude. We CAN choose to assess risk. We CAN choose to take risk. And yes, we CAN deal with it if it goes wrong, just as we successfully managed the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I'm not suggesting we throw open the state to an 1889-style Oklahoma Land Rush; just simply quit treating development, profit, and prosperity like they were bad words, and craft a judicious balance between development and environment.
If we want people to invest in Alaska, we have to show them that Alaska is open for business, and have to offer the prospect of a reasonable profit.