Monday, December 19, 2005

What Does David Broder Know?

President Bush gets a lot of grief. Some of it is reasonable but some of it isn't. The unreasonable variety includes criticism of his so-called plan to send humans to Mars. It's unreasonable first because his Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) is not a plan to send humans to Mars, it's a plan to send humans back to the Moon and establish a permanent base there. The Vision's secondary goal is to send people to Mars. But the VSE is more visionary than that because its ultimate goal is to send humans throughout the Solar System to stay. The criticism of the VSE is unreasonable second because sending humans to Mars is a logical next step beyond the Moon for human exploration of space. If the human space program doesn't intend to go beyond the Moon we might just as well scrap it.

The latest swipe at sending humans to Mars came this weekend in David Broder's column, in which he advocated the President adopting Senator Lamar Alexander's plan to increase funding for basic research and more science teaching jobs.
This [Alexander's plan] is a large order, but much more practical than Bush's earlier promise of a manned mission to Mars. Alexander quotes his mentor, the late Bryce Harlow, an Eisenhower aide, who taught him that "everything that comes to the White House is important, but only a few things are presidential." This, says Alexander, is presidential. And it's there for Bush's taking.

As described by Broder (here), Alexander's plan to increase funding for basic science research and to hire more science teachers sounds worthy. We would not necessarily call it "presidential." Stripped of flowery rhetoric Alexander's plan is mostly a program to increase funding for teachers, which is more gubernatorial than presidential, but whatever.

The point is that the President's VSE is a worthy plan as well. Moreover, the VSE is a science program, a jobs program, an educational program that will teach more about space, and like Apollo, it has the potential to inspired uncounted numbers of people for years to come to pursue careers in science.

What Broder's column demonstrates is "the tyranny of either-or thinking." Just because it might be a good thing to spend more money on basic science and science teachers, doesn't mean it's a bad thing to spend money on sending humans into space. It's only a bad thing if one thinks in "either-or" terms. The issue should not be whether we fund one or the other, but how we can fund both.


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