Not to give in completely to nepotistic back-scratching, but Jennifer has done the thankless task of combing the web sites of John McCain and Barack Obama for statements about science, and reports back on what she found. This comes on the heels of Obama’s answers to a set of questions from ScienceDebate2008 — McCain hasn’t answered yet, but he’s expected to soon.
I would never have the patience to do something like this myself, as stuff that appears in prepared statements on websites is likely to be bland and inoffensive, right? (One could go even further and comb through their legislative records, but that’s a truly Herculean task better left to superhumans like hilzoy.) But as it turns out, you can learn things.
Nowhere is the difference between the two candidates more stark than in their stated policies on education. McCain predictably champions No Child Left Behind (NCLB), when every educator I know considers the program to be a major FAIL. Beyond that, his education policy is inexplicably vague and obsessed with giving parents greater control over where their kids attend schools — so much so, that I suspect it’s a bit of a “dog whistle,” i.e., code for something else that only those tuned to that particular frequency can hear. There is no specific mention of math and science education. At least he recognizes the potential for online learning through virtual schools, and offers financial support to help low-income students pay for access to those online resources.
But again, Obama also supports online educational tools, with far broader financial support for educational opportunities of all kinds, and offers many point-by-point specifics. He supports the need for accountability in schools, but recognizes that NCLB has failed in large part because funding promises weren’t kept by the Bush Administration. His policies seek to address not just teacher training and retention, but also high dropout rates, soaring college costs, and the need for high-quality childcare to assist working parents (particularly single moms). And he wants to make math and science education a national priority.
I don’t especially enjoy constantly bashing the modern Republican Party and contrasting them unfavorably with Democrats. There certainly is a respectable intellectual case to be made for small-government conservatism, and even if I didn’t agree with all of the particulars, it would be interesting and worthwhile to engage in policy debates from the perspective of mutual intellectual respect. Nor do I especially think that Democratic politicians, as a group, are anything to be that excited about. But at the current moment, the Republicans have so cheerfully given into anti-intellectualism and cultural backwardness that there isn’t much to have a debate about.
Better conservatives, please. It would be good for the country.