CRAMMING SCIENCE

CRAMMING SCIENCE…Kevin has noted the weird spectacle of President Bush becoming fascinated with science and technology even as his government continues to crush various scientific studies and breakthroughs that run counter to the agenda of his base. The Washington Post?s Peter Baker adds more material for those of us trying to divine how, when, and why the president became interested in the decline of America?s scientific and technological competitiveness that has happened on his watch.

Aides said Bush became interested in promoting [his American Competitive Initiative] after a pile of reports stacked up on his desk lamenting the erosion in the U.S. technological advantage globally. The most influential came out in October, issued by a National Academies committee headed by retired Lockheed Martin Corp. chairman Norman R. Augustine. The report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” recommended a dramatic boost in research funding and science education.

Sens. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) followed up by meeting with Bush at the White House in mid-December, urging him to meet the Augustine challenge. Bush agreed, and he outlined a $136 billion, 10-year plan in the State of the Union to double research spending on physical sciences, train more science and math teachers and enact a permanent research and development tax credit.

I love the bit about the reports stacking up on Bush?s desk and the intervention by the senators that was apparently necessary to get him to focus. But aside from the frat-guy-who-skipped-class-now-cramming-for-the-exam-the-night-before quality of Bush’s personality, there’s more to be said about why, until now, the White House has ignored alarming signs of America’s relative decline in science and economic innovation. A while back, The Washington Monthly’s Nick Thompson provided one important answer: Bush thumbs his nose at science because scientists don’t vote Republican. If, in his beleaguered state, the president has changed his political calculation, that’s a good thing for America. We shall see.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.