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Bush and Kerry
Is Kerry’s space policy statement a genuine statement of the candidate’s beliefs about space exploration, or just another way to promote the campaign’s overall themes? (credit: Kerry-Edwards 2004)

Both ends of the spectrum

Tomorrow is election day and according to the Iowa Electronic Markets on Saturday night, Bush has a 55% chance of winning. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Iowa is the state that puts the winning candidate over the top? It’s a good day, and either the first of many or the last, to talk about the Kerry space policy. The Bush space policy has been talked about a lot on The Space Review so I am only going to discuss it briefly here. The Vision is a radical course change for NASA that mostly occurs after Bush leaves office. Some of the innovative parts of Bush’s policy have received a little bit of funding, so maybe we will see a NASA space venture backer like In-Q-Tel sooner. The most radical innovation in Bush space policy is that by being passive and not developing a new post-shuttle heavy lift vehicle, the Bush Administration is increasing the purchase of private lift service in the future, and removing government competition for private payloads.

The Kerry space policy really says more about his domestic, Iraq, and terrorism policies than indicates much about what will happen for space in a Kerry presidency.

I think that the Bush space policy does not go nearly far enough (see “The Dinkin Commission report”, The Space Review, June 21, 2004). Bush much more than Kerry has the genes, temperament, and team that could embrace a radical space policy. The Bush team has done so in Iraq, tax policy, Medicare drug policy, homeland security, missile defense, and air quality and has advocated a radical Social Security policy. If a hard-core free market space policy was adopted with $200 billion in prizes over the next ten years (front-loaded to the next four), Bush would go down in history as the next Queen Isabella for his hand in opening up the next major wave of colonization. Bush is unlikely to do so, but Kerry would be more likely to slow-pedal the changes Bush has initiated than become radical.

The Kerry campaign released a space policy statement last week with the following plan headings:

  1. Increasing funding for NASA to carry on the next generation of missions.
  2. Pursuing a more balanced space and aeronautics program that assigns appropriate priority to all NASA programs.
  3. Ensuring that space exploration is a global undertaking that unites all nations in the common quest for greater understanding.
  4. Putting an emphasis back on aeronautics R&D.
  5. Improving the management of NASA.

The policy statement is incomplete, but it is not really fair to hold Kerry to the same standard of completeness as Bush. Bush has had many more resources and much more time to prepare a space policy. Even so, the Kerry space policy really says more about his domestic, Iraq, and terrorism policies than indicates much about what will happen for space in a Kerry presidency.

The Kerry campaign calls to “Increase funding for NASA to carry on the next generation of missions,” by more than the inflation rate, and funding the increase “by accelerating the transition to digital television and auctioning off the spectrum that is freed up, ensuring that it will not add to the deficit.” This statement echoes the position that Kerry takes on raising taxes and raising spending on Medicare.

If the goal of this plank was to promote fiscal responsibility and reassure voters who have space as a secondary issue, it might well have achieved this on the surface. A more thorough look makes it suicidal or pure genius. What do you think would happen to TV coverage of the Kerry campaign if the early auction of TV spectrum made front-page news? A hint is what happened to the Dole and McCain campaigns, the last two candidates to advocate TV auctions. The broadcast media still controls a big audience and it is not in their interest to have early TV auctions.

A second level of analysis shows that pitting space interests against TV media is really an assurance to the TV media that there won’t be any credible attempt by the Kerry administration to hold an early TV auction. The knock-on effect of pitting space against free TV is that savvy space supporters will see that the proposal to get money from a TV spectrum auction is a way to freeze the space budget without paying the political price for it. That is, if the best Kerry can do with the analog TV money is increase the space program by more than the rate of inflation to pursue “balanced” goals, then the TV media is safe for four more years of a Kerry administration. If Kerry really wanted to auction analog TV, the campaign would roll out their best arguments like using the auction money to fund more intelligence, defense, beat cops, and medical care. That would not only free up some money for the rest of the budget, but benefit me personally as I would likely advise one of the teams bidding for spectrum. The omission of those arguments is pure genius as a way to get the broadcasters into the Kerry corner for the election home stretch.

If Kerry really wanted to auction analog TV, the campaign would roll out their best arguments like using the auction money to fund more intelligence, defense, beat cops, and medical care.

Alternatively, the Kerry campaign is just emphasizing its popular themes. By “Pursuing a more balanced space and aeronautics program that assigns appropriate priority to all NASA programs,” the Kerry campaign is echoing the position Kerry is taking on Iraq and terrorism. A consistent Kerry theme has been that the Bush administration has not pursuing a balanced approach to terrorism, but has a lopsided policy that places too much emphasis on Iraq, which shortchanges intelligence and domestic readiness. The plank to “ensure that space exploration is a global undertaking” echoes the Kerry campaign complaint Bush Iraq policy is too unilateral. Even the renewed “emphasis back on aeronautics R&D” echoes a domestic focus on investing in “the jobs of tomorrow”. But it also echoes another theme from Kerry the Senator, that we should be using NASA dollars to improve life at home rather than look outward (see “Space vs. butter”, The Space Review, August 16, 2004.)

When Virgin Galactic gets a mention in Wired Magazine, you might think that someone on the Kerry campaign would embrace space commercialization, endorse HR 3752, promote more partnerships for NASA like the new ones with SpaceDev and Bigelow Aerospace, and offer an exciting alternative vision to Bush’s. There is certainly room to do so. Alas, the policy described is really a rollback of Bush’s Vision in the same way Kerry intends to roll back the Bush tax cut. But if you read between the lines, the Kerry space policy is not about space at all. As Jeff Foust notes on our sister publication, Space Politics, this is in line with current the importance of space policy. The policy therefore, however incomplete, may be a much more shrewd policy than Bush’s.

In a SpaceRef article, Keith Cowing discusses the Garver-Sietzen debate and, while praising the Bush space policy, goes on to say he is voting for Kerry. I am not planning to vote. The odds that I would affect the election are pretty low. I did, however, decide the last election by giving $100 to the Nader campaign. It was that last trip to Florida by Nader that pushed Bush into office.


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