Second, Glennan espoused a role for government in American society that was limited and less proactive than what was rapidly becoming the norm on the post-war scene. He challenged the rising amount of governmental regulation and direction in the affairs of individual Americans, and expressed a desire for a return to a less intrusive federal state. He told an audience in Akron, Ohio, in March 1950 that a new cold war was raging "between democratic practices and philosophies on the one hand and the practices and philosophy of a powerful central government on the other." He commented that "the area left to the exercise of private responsibility had steadily dwindled as government has been given control over more and more of our economic and personal affairs."18

Glennan also believed that it was the responsibility of the private sector to take the lead in a variety of areas, rather than abdicating responsibility and allowing government to fill the vacuum. One of those areas was the development of science and technology, perhaps a particularly appropriate area of concern for Glennan because of his background and position at Case. He told the president of a scientific research-oriented corporation in 1952, for instance, that "unless industry moves much farther and faster along the road of social responsibility (much fine progress has been made to date), I am inclined to believe that the omnipresent politician and big government man will step in with costly promises."19 In concert with this position, Glennan deplored what he called the expansion of the "welfare state," and argued for a strong showing among private institutions so that government leaders would not feel compelled to get involved in too many aspects of people's lives.20 Accordingly, he expressed well the apparent attitudes of many white middle-class, slightly conservative Americans who went to the polls in 1952 and elected Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower as president. Both of these guiding beliefs in Glennan's life helped to shape his actions and contributed fundamentally to the direction he charted for NASA as its first administrator.

While Glennan had strong beliefs about limiting the federal government's role in daily life, he tempered those ideological leanings with a certain pragmatism, informed by principle, that recognized some regulation and some activity was required by the federal government to ensure the safety of the citizens and the advance of the nation's technological and scientific base. One of those areas where he had little difficulty accepting the federal government's preeminence was in the management of nuclear power. This same area also afforded Glennan his first important opportunity to offer public service at the national level in the postwar period.

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