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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Planetariums

Does anyone else out there find it a little odd that Senator McCain is so obsessed with trashing planetariums? I understand that a hefty portion of his base harbors a medieval suspicion of science education in general. But you would think that a Senator, a former pilot at that, who prides himself in being a strong champion of our national security would at least get it that teaching young people about the cosmos is a good way to get them interested in physics, rocket science and the like. Here’s what McCain said at the debate:

He [Obama] voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?

It wasn’t just the words. it was the contemptuous tone, as well as the monumental hypocrisy behind it. It’s OK to squander $300 U.S. taxpayer dollars per month on each of thousands of Iraqi government employees, with no end in sight. But a couple of million dollars on America’s oldest planetarium? How outrageous. Then there’s the duplicity of calling it an “overhead projector” to make it sound like a grade school slide machine, when he knew better.
it wasn’t the first time McCain trashed planetariums in attacking Senator Obama. Back in September McCain was quoted as saying “And when you look at some of the planetariums and other foolishness that he asked for, he shouldn’t be saying anything about Governor Palin.”
To which theoretical physicist JoAnne Hewett responded:

Quite frankly, I am left speechless at the phrase: ‘planetariums and other foolishness…Sorry, but replacing 40 year old equipment at one of the leading science education facilities in this country (the Adler Planetarium is located in downtown Chicago and is the oldest planetarium in existence today) is one of the best investments in the future that I can think of. I’ve always equated planetariums with science education – an area where the US seems to be lacking.

What is even more worrisome is the subtext behind McCain’s contempt for planetariums. It’s not just a reactionary attitude toward science. He has never placed much value on education in general and sees federal investment in education as a waste. If elected, he and Palin could do serious damage to America’s ability to compete in the years ahead with other nations which are making major investments in upgrading their educational systems. It would be hard to devise a quicker way to turn America into a second-rate power than electing the pair of them. One more reason to write another check for Obama.

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