Possibly spurred by the online publication two weeks ago of Sen. Obama’s answers, Sen. McCain has now delivered his own responses to the 14 questions posed by Science Debate 2008. You can read both campaigns’ responses side by side and judge their merits for yourself.
The McCain replies exhibit the same odd dissonance between the well known public “voice” of the candidate himself and the it-could-only-be-a-committee locutions of his science team. For example, Team McCain gushingly praises the “transformative” impact of communications technology on family lives, while we know that Sen. McCain himself admits he is still getting to know the Internet and is presumably not obsessively texting Cindy all day long. . . . However, up to some odd tonal quirks like the candidate’s campaign-long enthusiasm for the multifaceted role of community colleges, the McCain responses, like Obama’s, seem generally within the scientific mainstream and both replies have strengths and weaknesses.
In fact, some responses were quite similar, right down to use of the same vocabulary and buzz words (emission reductions through “cap and trade,” a “balanced” space program, a “permanent” R&D tax credit, etc.). However, McCain emphasizes for-profit innovation a bit more than does Obama. For example, his climate-change reply, he proposes a $5,000 a car tax credit for zero-emission vehicles while also taking a swipe at past alternative-fuel efforts that have “thrown around enough money subsidizing special interests and excusing failure.” Hmm. I hope he has in mind avoiding the Arizona alt-fuels tax-credit debacle.
More likely, he was simply thinking of his parallel call to “eliminate wasteful earmarks in order to allocate funds for science and technology investments.” That one may stick in the craw of many of the backers of Science Debate, among whom are responsible officers of universities that a generation ago would never have sought research earmarks, as a matter of pride, but now do so routinely, as a matter of perceived competitive necessity.
Not surprisingly, the McCain answers spend a lot of time on nuclear energy (a sector to which Obama himself has not been entirely unfriendly, given the prominence in Illinois of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear operator). McCain also shows perhaps more regard than Obama for the role of defense technology expenditures in civilian innovation and market-building. His discussion of ocean health is particularly admirable for its insistence on equal focus on the problems of the Great Lakes and our freshwater system. I did think the space answer was weak, though, considering its length. One other element that was notable to me: a specific call for the U.S. to help train a new generation of African agro-scientists in service of a new Green Revolution on that troubled continent.