So there I was last night, in the Twilight Zone between wakefulness and sleep, Late Night With David Letterman on the television, blaring in the background. I was vaguely aware that John McCain was Letterman’s guest for the evening and that they were chatting back and forth, Letterman asking the usual rather inane questions that entertainment-oriented talk show hosts often ask politicians and Presidential candidates when they have them on their shows and McCain was winding up to hit the softball questions out of the park.
Then I heard it, in the middle of a commentary about how the Republicans lost the 2006 election because they let spending get out of control during their time as the majority party in Congress, thrown out as an example of supposedly wasteful spending. I jerked to full wakefulness as I heard a statement that sounded something like this:
“We’re spending three million dollars to study bear DNA. I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money.”
Ack! First McCain credulously buys into the pseudoscience that vaccines somehow cause autism, and now this! Shades of William Proxmire’s infamous Golden Fleece Awards from the 1970s and 1980s. In a truly irritating bit of antiscience demagogery, Proxmire not infrequently peppered his lists of truly wasteful spending with Golden Fleece Awards to federally funded science projects that, because of the odd or unusual nature of the subject matter, were easily portrayed to the ignorant as wastes of taxpayer money. Never mind that many of them had been subjected to NSF or NIH peer review, just like any other grant proposal, and been found scientifically meritorious enough to fund. If they sounded “funny” they must be wasteful.
I guess that’s just the pointy-headed “elitist” scientist in me talking.
Now Senator McCain appears to be going down the same pathway of antiscience demagoguery. Oddly enough, I hadn’t heard about his contemptuous jokes about bear DNA and paternity testing before I saw him on Letterman’s show last night, but apparently they’ve been a staple of his stump speech for quite some time now and irritating biologists over their inaccuracies at least as long, given the success of the project.
Once again, I don’t know what I’m going to do this year when I enter the voting booth. Although McCain used to be appealing to me back in 2000, his support of the Iraq war and his increasingly anti-science bent, coupled with his pandering to the religious right, have become profound negatives. Meanwhile, I fail to see what is so compelling about Barack Obama as a potential President, given his glaring lack of experience, and I never liked Hillary Clinton, who’s always struck me as a cynical opportunist who seems to think she’s entitled somehow to the Presidency.
It’s looking more and more like yet another election where I have to hold my nose and pick the lesser of two evils. Sadly, the lesser of two evils is still evil.