Monday, November 15, 2004

A vision of the future

Irrigation circles in the Libyan desertNot to beat a dead horse, but photos like this are what I mean by a vision of the future. This is a pilot project by the Libyan government to use water from an oasis (lower left) to irrigate agriculture. It's an incredible exercise of the human will, a desire to accomplish greatness despite difficulty.

On top of that, it's taken by a scientist on the International Space Station. The space program remains perhaps the single crowning accomplishment of the human race to date. The ISS is the current pinnacle of manned space exploration. A collaborative project between former enemies, dedicated to the notion that we are all one people, it is built on a heritage of Cold War paranoia. The technology from space flight traces its lineage from the rockets that decimated Britain in the Second World War, and developed into the most carefully engineered killing machines ever, the ICBMs.

But Kennedy had a vision. He beat the ICBM sword into the Apollo Project plowshares. It was competitive, but in an entirely non-destructive way. It revitalized education by offering a carrot to students and teachers. The current federal education policy is a big stick with no carrot. All you can do is avoid getting shut down. Kennedy said, “If you achieve excellence, you could walk on the moon.” And people studied.

It's no accident that that was the era when the Scopes style anti-evolution laws were overturned in every state. People realized that education had value, that science had applications and meaning. Now, despite the astounding advances that biology is undergoing, and the opportunities biology offers, people think they can mess with the teaching of biology and it won't matter. This is a failure of leadership from both parties. The potential of scientific advancement is a powerful, deep message, and Republicans stand against it at every turn. This is a field that Democrats should be able to dominate easily. Instead, they let Republicans bad mouth stem cell research and undermine advancements in biology.

How hard would it be to say “Look at this picture. Science is making the Libyan desert bloom, and science is letting the gaze of men and women wander around the planet and across the universe. Let's look to the future. Let's build a nation of explorers and discoverers.” From that opening, you can bridge to literally any progressive policy, from taxes to national security. And you can bridge from a question about anything, from marital infidelity or gay marriage or missile defense, to that line.

Q. What is your position on Social Security reform?

A. We need to {means test, raise the cap on payroll taxes, capture leprechauns}. Our commitment to Social Security is a commitment to the future. Medical advances have helped raise life expectancy around the world at an unprecedented rate in the last hundred years, and if I'm president, I'll make sure that the progress we've made continues. The spirit that brought the world together to build and staff the ISS is the same spirit that is bringing more and more people into their second century, that's turning fatal diseases like cystic fibrosis into treatable disorders, like diabetes. In the next century, we need to find ways to cure those diseases, and we need to make sure those treatments reach the people who need them. That means redoubling our commitment to great schools that will produce a new generation of explorers, to funding innovative research, to guaranteeing that Social Security and Medicare will still able to supply medicines and care to seniors, and to supplying health insurance to everyone, so that the benefits of our research can reach everyone who needs it.

Try it yourself.