The Adler Planetarium and McCain's Fake War on Earmarks

I watched the entire debate and mostly yawned. McCain seemed tired and deflated, his loud breathing sounding like air coming out of a collapsing balloon. Obama was decidedly cool, but very confident.

I was disappointed when he failed to jump on McCain for the Adler Planetarium smear. McCain had previously been making silly remarks about a $3 million grizzly bear DNA project. It turned out that McCain not only never opposed it, but also actually voted for it. They had to find something that would sound equally ridiculous, and they jumped at the first item on Obama's earmarks page, because it was the only one that could be made to sound absurd. The rest are impeccably correct. I urge you to go to the link below and see for yourself what they say about Barack Obama's values.

Obama Announces FY08 Federal Funding Requests

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Adler Planetarium, to support replacement of its projector and related equipment, $3,000,000

One of its most popular attractions and teaching tools at the Adler Planetarium is the Sky Theater. The projection equipment in this theater is 40 years old, and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It has begun to fail, leaving the theater dark and groups of school students and other interested museum-goers without this very valuable and exciting learning experience.

The Adler Planetarium slur reveals both the slovenly nature of the McCain campaign's opposition research as well as the cynical and tone-deaf disconnect from reality. This is a high-tech scientific educational project, not an entertainment device. When I was a child and teenager growing up in New York, the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History was among my favorite places to visit. It was an important factor in the formation of my life-long interest in science and technology.

I was also a little disappointed that Obama used a concrete dollar figure -- $20 billion -- to attempt to show the triviality of McCain's obsession with earmarks. Their percentage of the total budget has been estimated as less than 1%. The highest I've seen is 4%. From what I've read, cutting earmarks is not going to affect total spending anyway because they allocate funds that have already been budgeted.

Economist Mark Thoma discussed this at . His pie chart dramatically shows the relative unimportance of the earmarks issue. I think that in the future Obama should use percentages rather than dollars in shooting down this utterly demagogic theme. He should also point out that by ridiculing the Adler Planetarium projector replacement, McCain is really attacking the modern science and technology education that has been one of the principal forces in the growth of the United States' military and economic dominance since Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in 1958.

Earmarks can be a fairly democratic way responding to local needs. McCain fails to appreciate the fact that so many of these budget requests are for worthy projects that are welcomed by constituents. It's not all pork, maybe not even mostly pork. I challenge you to find as single dubious item when you look at Obama's requests.

The Planetarium item dramatizes the know-nothing, anti-science, anti-education attitudes of the McCain voter base, as well as his cynicism. I think this is an opportunity to highlight that. The United States should be financing the world's most effective and entertaining museums, science exhibits and educational facilities. The Defense Department was once a leader in promoting education in many different ways. It was a strong factor in the country's cultural and economic development before the Reagan revolution began pushing non-military science out the window.

Sometimes a small point can be effectively leveraged into dramatizing a major theme that exposes the real differences between candidates that are not revealed by the usual rhetoric. I think this is one of them. People love planetariums and museums. They attract immense audiences. I remember when admission was free or negligible. It pains me and embarrasses me to think of the Museum of Modern Art in New York charging adults $20 and students $12.

When do we get back to government as public service?