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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Batting .000 For The ’00s, America’s Lost Decade

Have you ever seen “The Apotheosis of George Washington”? It’s a fresco painted on the ceiling of the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, at the very center of the American republic.

It was painted by Constantino Brumidi in 1865, when the Capitol was being completed at the end of the Civil War. I was reminded of it during the debate at the Reagan Library on Sept. 7, when Rick Perry, now the leading Republican presidential candidate, rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

The fresco depicts toga-clad deities surrounding Washington, but he’s the only president there: A full third of the ceiling is devoted to scientists and inventors. Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton and Samuel F.B. Morse are featured, with Venus holding a transatlantic telegraph cable, the big infrastructure project of the day. The Rotunda all but shouts that to be anti-science is to be anti-American.

Most presidents have embraced that idea. And most have sought to preside over a period when the U.S. advanced in concrete and measurable ways on the home front. Abraham Lincoln was determined that the 1860s be known for something other than carnage. He insisted on pushing through a series of what were then called “internal improvements” — such as land-grant colleges — that were not directly tied to the war effort.

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