Editorial: Biden bets on 21st Century

Column By John Young

Five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.

How do you measure, measure a year?

How does a party on the outs measure a blown opportunity?

Let’s just say that for Republicans there’s always next year.

This year, in their second chance to rebut President Biden’s State of the Union, they bet that Americans wanted to hear from the past – the one-time mouthpiece of an ousted serial liar.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, her career climb owed to microphone time for the “alternative facts” machine of Donald Trump, got the call.

She spoke of a “new generation.” What came across instead was a bunch of jargon for generations-old grievances.

Oh, yeah, some white Americans checked the deadbolts when Sanders spoke of the “woke mob” out there. Far more, of those still listening, changed the channel.

What a contrast in perspectives. Of the two, the forward-looking one just turned 80.

Except to review two years of meaty and lofty legislative victories, Biden’s speech was all future-focused.

The unending fight to fend off cuts to Social Security and Medicare, for one.

Add the future of smart energy and environmental policies (in contrast to standard Republican “spew here; spew now” delusions).

In particular, when it came to the crucial building block of competitiveness in modern times – semiconductors — Biden was very much a 21st Century man.

As he pointed out, microchips were invented on these shores, and American manufacturers dominated their production. But over a generation, America’s share of the market plummeted from 40 percent to 10 percent.

Meanwhile, China’s semiconductor industry took off like a rocket.

Let’s just say this concern is a ton weightier than Republicans’ bleating about on a loose balloon over Montana.

Things have changed in a big way relative to semiconductors since last year when Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, by which the federal government will invest $150 billion in this strategic industry.

Such a thing sticks in the craw of so-called “small government” advocates. But most are hypocrites to the bone. After all, they’ll support any and every financial need of the military.

What a novel idea: to invest in a peacetime future.

In the last quarter-century, while many American industries withered, the one U.S. industry that never lost ground was the military-industrial complex.

A question all Americans should have been asking: Is war the only thing we can make?

Now thanks to Biden, a chief mission is to regain dominance in microchips, key elements behind the supply-chain problems in so many industries.

Biden spoke of the $4.2 billion partnership between Qualcomm and GlobalFoundries to boost semiconductor production by 50 percent at the latter’s New York facility.

In his book “Thank You for Being Late,” about the stunning speed of technological leaps, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman writes that one of the biggest moments in human history was the development in 2007 of non-silicon materials to make chips that made possible today’s smartphones (introduced by Apple that very year) and so much more.

Years from now the same significance will be attached to Biden’s semiconductor initiative when the fruits are in full view.

In the meantime, Biden has acted to block China’s ability to harvest the U.S. technology it was using to build a dominating semiconductor industry that would leave this country in the dust.

“These technologies are going to be the foundation of economic strength over the next decades,” said Martijn Rasser of the Center for a New American Security, expressing concerns about “what the world would look like if China gained the upper hand.”

It has a moon-shot feel to it. This isn’t the space race, though. This is the jobs race.

Yes, yes; but what about a transgender on the girls’ swim team? What about that, President Biden?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email him at jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author.