Planetariums: A communist plot?
John McCain used to be a respectable figure in the Senate. He used to be someone with whom I disagree on many points of public policy, but he had integrity. He truthfull called Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and company “agents of intolerance”, and he was right, even if he was a little polite for my taste. I would have prefered the more scientifically precise term “ignorant, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted wastes of water who embarass me that I share a species with them”. Anyway.
When it looked like McCain was going to be the nominee for his party, months ago, I was relieved. I thought, at last the GOP managed to pick someone who didn’t frighten the crap out of every thinking human being on the planet, someone who didn’t apparently want to turn this nation into a reenactment of The Handmaid’s Tale. It seems I was premature in my assessment.
A small but telling case in point: Phil Plait posted a quote from McCain on his Bad Astronomy blog, and argued that this quote in particular demonstrates a latent anti-science bias on McCain’s part. Here’s the quote:
“That’s nearly a million every day, every working day he’s been in Congress,” McCain said. “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.”
A lot of people immediately took issue with Phil’s stance, and complained that simply being against a planetarium doesn’t make one anti-science. But I don’t think that was the point. I think the point here isn’t whether a particular planetarium is worthy of funding or not by the Feds. If so, we’d have to open up all the documents involved, go over the relevant proposals with a comb, and review the availability of federal funds in that particular program that funded the project in that year. But I think taking the argument in that direction is a red herring.
When McCain said what he said, he was making an off the cuff comment, but I agree with Phil that it was very telling. McCain’s not necessarily against a particular building, he’s against – or more properly his party, simply doesn’t favor education as an end in itself. It’s not necessarily relevant or accurate to say that McCain hates the Adler Planetarium. But it is accurate to say that he and his party sneer at the very idea that knowledge is a virtue. They practically enshrine ignorance.
The GOP routinely puts forward candidates who brag about how little they know, how little experience they have, how they’re ‘outsiders’ and not part of the ‘entrenched Washington establishment’. Excuse me? Who do you go to when you have cancer? The best oncologist you can possibly find, or the guy down at the gas station who cleans the pumps, because the oncologist is part of the ‘entrenched medical establishment’ and you want an ‘outsider’?
George W. Bush favors teaching creationism alongside actual science in public schools, and apparently believes a single cell can contain a functioning adult human consciousness. Ronald Reagan raised taxes on graduate student stipends because he didn’t feel the government should “subsidize intellectual curiosity”. Yes, graduate students making barely $10,000 a year are living WAY too large. How many thousands of times have we all heard GOP politicos shrieking and wailing against stem cells, evolution, racial equality, sex in any form whatsoever outside of joyless child-manufacture, genetics, renewable energy, public schools, tap water fluoridation, labor unions, equal pay for equal work, foreigners, or basically anything that pre-Roman goat-herders might have had some idiotic taboo against?
The GOP hate sex education, even though it demonstrably and reproducibly decreases the rates of teen pregnancy and STD transmission, because it conveys knowledge that allows people to make informed decisions. They hate gays because a bunch of ignorant savages in the Bronze Age thought that gay sex was icky. They want to ban everything that clashes with their own ossified bigotries and prejudices, all the while howling about freedom and liberty. They don’t want freedom, they want obedience. And informed people make poor slaves.
I don’t care if Obama favored funding a particular planetarium. I don’t care if McCain doesn’t like that particular planetarium. But I do care that McCain can make an impromptu comment where he snidely dismisses the entire idea of using the federal treasury to support discovery and learning, and all his party faithful immediately nod their heads and laugh along with him.