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Democratic Presidential Candidates and the Space Program

As readers here know, despite my being very involved in local politics I don't often post about politics on my blog. The main reason I don't is that it can be far too easy for political discussion to cross the line from informative respectful disagreement to personal attacks.

However, as of yesterday I find myself in something of a bind. Next Tuesday I'm voting in the Massachusetts Democratic Primary, and the candidate I was planning to vote for, John Edwards, has dropped out of the race.

When people asked me why I was voting for Edwards, I usually responded with the following joke: it's about time a Christian white male had a chance at the presidency. The fact that a major party's presidential candidate is going to be either a woman or an African-American, and that most of the country casually accepts this achievement, is a wonderful thing. I haven't been this excited since the election of 1872. (What happened in 1872, you ask? Go look it up. I'll wait. If you can't find anything on your first search, try the name "Victoria Woodhull.")

Despite the obvious excitement and intensity Clinton's and Obama's supporters have for their chosen candidates, however, I was most interested in Edwards's populist, anti-poverty message. Yes, I know he's rich and has his flaws; so do all the candidates. But I was impressed with his stand on certain issues and the way he presented himself. In particular, I was pleased to hear about how he addressed the Writer's Guild of America in person during not just one, but two of their rallies. Union support runs deep in me ever since my father died while he was on strike and the union took care of us; it's an emotional connection that I will never shake.

So Edwards was the candidate I had chosen to support, and now he's gone. And I find myself with the dilemma of deciding who to vote for next week, Clinton or Obama. On most of the issues that I've been following, there's nothing to help me differentiate between the two of them. So I decided to do what any self-respecting science-fiction writer would do, and judge them based on their proposed plans for space exploration.

There doesn't seem to be much out there, but I have found two relevant documents so far. First, there is Barack Obama's Plan for American Leadership in Space, released three weeks ago. According to the document, Obama supports the development of the Orion CEV and completion of the International Space Station. He also supports more robotic missions and enhanced science and mathematics education here on Earth. But nowhere in this statement does he speak to the question of manned missions. I want to see humans return to the moon in my lifetime, and I want to see the beginnings of a mission to Mars. On both of those, Obama's statement is disturbingly silent.

Sadly, though, Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to be that interested in my core issues either. In her October press release, Ending the War on Science, Clinton does say that she'll take what I consider a better approach towards supporting science and scientific research than the current administration. But while she says she is committed to the same things Obama mentions (she just uses different language), and she refers to "future human exploration," again there is no specific mention of manned missions to either the moon or Mars.

So in the end, I'm still a newly-minted undecided voter. If anyone out there can give me good reasons to support either candidate over the other, based upon the core issues of manned space exploration, I'd like to know.

Per aspera ad astra.

Comments

FWIW, I'm still casting my primary ballot for Edwards, even though he withdrew. He earned my vote, and I don't want either of the other candidates (or the news media) to get too complacent by assuming the Edwards supporters can be taken for granted.
I've actually considered that. Back in 1992, I cast my vote for Tom Harkin even though he has withdrew from the race before the New York State Primary; and as I recall, he actually got 1% of the vote.

But this time around, I'd rather cast my vote for either Clinton or Obama...if I can find a compelling enough reason for me to choose one over the other.
I suppose you could (although now I'm tempted to) write to their campaigns and see if they have an answer...
I'm not sure either campaign at this point would have time to formulate an answer. I'm looking for anything else the candidates might have already said.

Although I suppose if enough of us emailed them on the question, and sang a bar of Alice's Restaurant, it would become a movement. :-)
It seems to me that really moving forward with manned space requires an orator who can motivate people and express a vision. On those grounds, I'd have to give the nod to Obama.
Obama is an impressive orator from what I've read. But I see no indication that the content of his orations will include manned space missions. I have to admit that I'd like to see a little something more substantial.
Edwards "suspended" his campaign and didn't endorse anyone. What do you suppose he's up to? He's still on your ballot.
Not that it ties into the topic of this post, but...

I suspect that Edwards is protecting the possibility of being asked to serve as a running mate for either Clinton or Obama. While a Clinton-Obama or an Obama-Clinton ticket (I have to admit that I find the first ticket a more likely scenario than the second) would be even more historic than Clinton-Edwards or Obama-Edwards, it's possible that either Clinton and Obama will feel the need for a white male to balance out the ticket. If Edwards endorses one of them, and the other one wins the nomination, he probably won't be asked.
I don't have a direct answer, specifically addressing space exploration and issues. However, this blag entry at xkcd discusses the difference in approaches to technology in general between Obama and Clinton. (It was written before Edwards dropped out, and I'm still irked that he doesn't even get a mention.) Summary: Obama cares about tech issues, Clinton, not so much. By implication, then, Obama is likely to be more concerned about science. (It's not a perfect correlation, but I'd bet it's an okay one.)

Still voting for Edwards in the primary, because it can't do any harm and it makes a statement.
Looking at the candidate's actual statements that I linked to in this post, however, it appears that Clinton is more knowledgeable about the state of science in this country than Obama. Unless there's a statement from Obama that I'm missing.

But I do appreciate the link; it's more for me to ponder.

I wish I could find a poll of Massachusetts voters' current preferences. If Edwards was still polling at 10% or more in the commonwealth, I might actually still vote for him to make a statement.
Popular Mechanics compiled a list of links that its editors thought would be of interest to their readers. I find myself more impressed by Clinton than Obama. She appears to have a more concrete direction overall including manned space exploration than Obama, whose policy seems only slightly more formed than "give it all more money."

Note: I will admit a strong anti-Obama bias. I actively thought about not casting a presidential vote if he wins the nomination.
That's a useful page; thanks for pointing me towards it.
I found this article in the Washington Post that lays out the candidates' positions on manned space flight:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/22/AR2007112201359.html

It looks like Clinton and Romney will be your best bets. Both fully support Bush's space initiatives, although Romney has been less specific about it. That's not a bad core issue. The most serious threat to our future is a major impact by an asteroid, which has the potential to destroy all life on earth. Our best bets for surviving such a thing are manned space exploration and the NEO program.

This is certainly an interesting election year. I, too, am excited to see diversity on the ballot, although Obama and Clinton were not my first choices, either. Of the two, I lean towards Obama, because I think he has more potential to end the culture wars and the bitter (and artificial) divisions between political left and right. I feel that Hillary will necessarily pick up where her husband left off, which was with a very divided government and country. On the republican side, I think John McCain is the best bet for a 'uniter.'
From the article you reference, it seems that Clinton might be better than Obama on this issue, but it would appear only marginally so.

For other reasons not relevant to this particular topic, I wouldn't vote for Romney, even if he supported a manned Mars mission. If I were voting in the Republican primary (as many of my Massachusetts "unenrolled" friends are doing), I'd vote for McCain.

I'm glad you brought up the possibility of an asteroid impact. Believe it or not, it's actually one of the issues that concerns me as a voter. (I'm also concerned with how candidates plan to deal with the probable eventual heat death of the universe, but they give me funny looks when I ask them about it. I guess their attitude is, let's get humanity to the stars first, and then we can worry about keeping the universe intact and habitable.)
If broader technology issues might play into your decision, you might want to look at the Voters Guide that CNET put together. They sent the same set of questions to every candidate early in the campaign. It's revealing who answered the questions and interesting how those candidates answered. Some of the responses are only subtlely different but revealing nevertheless.

Edited at 2008-01-31 04:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link. I suspect I'll be looking through that Guide quite a bit before Tuesday.
I doubt that any of the candidates are putting much effort into wooing the pro-manned space flight vote so you may have to look at their voting records on space issues or do some kind of proxy analysis.

For example, perhaps a pro-nuclear power position might mirror a pro-science position and thus a pro-manned space flight position. If that's the case then Obama gets a bit of an edge over Hillary who is officially agnostic on nukes.

As you know, I think a person can be pro-science and still be plenty anti-nuke but that's another issue.

Regarding the issue of the anti-poverty angle, one would need to balance out the question of Obama's grassroots community activism with that of Hillary's more institutionalized and less hands on efforts. I tend to go with the grassroots informed approach here too. Obama might have more cred in this area with communities that need help because of his post-law school work. I don't think the inspiration of a black president to poor kids of color can be ignored either.
Actually, I think both have done much in this arena, but I see Obama's appeal to voters there. It would be really strong had he *lived* that experience, but still, as you say, as a symbol, he's surely inspirational. I keep that in mind as I decide what I'm going to do.

However, I keep in mind that poverty does not exactly equal Black (AA, if you prefer.) Lyndon Johnson got the anti-poverty fever from JFK (one of the few things he actually liked about the Kennedy agenda,) who in turn was inspired by travels his brother Bobby took in south Appalachia -- which, at least at the time, was almost purely white.

Given Obama's life story, I'd say neither Clinton nor Obama can speak from personally lived experience. Clinton's direct experience is by proxy of her husband, who actually grew up poor.
My deciding criteria are different (though I am interested in the space program -- I'm a product of the Kennedy years, after all.) Were I to use your criterion, lacking direct policy/agenda statements from the candidates, I'd look at their economic plans. It doesn't matter what they'd *like* to do if they don't have the money to do it!

On those grounds, I have only these tidbits to offer. Most of the economic analyses I've heard on NPR agree that Obama is least left of the three (Edwards, Clinton, Obama.) There has been more than one mention that Obama's sentiments are closer to the Libertarians than the traditional Democrats. Krugman (my favorite economist right now) is strongly against an Obama presidency. He has nothing against the man, just what Krugman considers his potential weaknesses for the office *at this time.* He's got a blog on the NYTimes.com -- "Conscience of a Liberal." (Anyone who is anti-Bush economy and/or frustrated with all the hype about Bush's economic record being one "most presidents would envy," should take a look. You'll love the posts.) He analyzes both plans in various posts.

Personally, I see more "and then we'll do stuff" out of Obama than real plans. That's how *I* see it, but judge for yourself.
Whatever you decide, take comfort that your vote will actually mean something. Mine certainly didn't. (Michigan.)

Still Voting for Edwards Too

I too still plan to vote for Edwards. I don't understand why he would drop out six days before Super Tuesday. However, since he's still on the ballot in all these states, he has the potential to pick up a significant number of delegates, whom he could then release to the candidate of his choice at the convention, thereby still making a difference.

This is not about manned space exploration, but as a strong supporter of a populist and anti-poverty agenda, I would favor Obama over Clinton if forced to choose. Clinton is part of the DLC that brought us NAFTA and GATT, leading to major outsourcing of jobs, as well as a general "Republican lite" approach during her husband's administration.
I am particularly excited to see this excerpt from his section on science education standards, which basically sums up the core of my master's research focus (emphasis mine):

"Science assessments need to do more than test facts and concepts. They need to use a range of measures to test inquiry and higher-order thinking skills including inference, logic, data analysis and interpretation, forming questions, and communication."

This may be the straw that swings me over into Obama's camp.
I don't know if this helps you or not but it's something to consider.

Well, it doesn't really respond to the specific question I was asking, about the candidates' support of the space program...
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