It may seem petty on the surface, but this actually matters to me:
Clinton was more enthusiastic than Obama about human space travel and domestic oil production when the Democratic presidential candidates conducted separate telephone conferences with the Houston Chronicle editorial board.
Yglesias identifies these two differences as both advantages for Obama. I disagree, as I see this as a split: advantage Obama on the oil issue, but advantage Clinton on the space exploration issue. And yes, which candidate is more bullish on space exploration does in fact make a difference in determining my vote. Further, this is not the first time when Obama has appeared less than bullish on NASA, as I discussed three months ago.
Space exploration is not an issue with clear partisan divisions. Some conservatives view it as a wasteful government expenditure that is better handled through private enterprise, while some progressives view it through a utilitarian lens in that it does not provide much direct benefit to humanity. The problem I have with this is two-fold. First, space exploration does in fact provide a lot of direct benefit to humanity that cannot be accomplished by private enterprise:
But apart from reliable weather forecasts, perfect navigation, cheap worldwide phone services, search and rescue, environmental imaging, forest fire monitoring, arms reduction verification, sixty-channel television, discovering the origin of the Earth and Moon, and vastly increasing our knowledge of the solar system and the rest of the Universe, what has space travel ever done for us?
These are not the more obvious kitchen-table benefits, but they are still very real and make a positive impact on a wide variety of people. Throw in 18,000 high tech jobs, significant national brain gain, the possible prevention of global extinction events, and the possibility of answering massive questions like whether or not we are alone in the universe, and yeah, the space program is truly worthless. Surely, I can think of better ways to spend one eighth of one-percent of our national economy than all of that. Oh wait--I can't.
Second, the space program is about as good an example of stretching and expanding our capabilities as a nation and as a species that one can name. Deciding to not test the limits of our engineering and intellectual potential, and to not explore our surroundings because we have more important things to do, strikes me as a profoundly dangerous path to follow. That is the path of stagnation, and even regression, as a people. Further, it is a terribly utilitarian approach to life, concluding that only bread matters, and that roses are worthless. Personally, I don't want to live that way, and I don't think many other people want to live that way, either. Everyone, no matter their financial situation, has aspects of their life that expand beyond mere bread and into roses: art, religion, family, travel, and scholarship are only a few examples of this. To think that we shouldn't have government funded roses in our lives is to posit a far more dreary nation than the one in which I want to live.
It makes me very proud that America leads the way in space exploration. There are so few positive areas where I feel like we are leading the way for humanity these days, that I am glad we still pushing the envelope in this area. If we make cuts, or even abandon, the space program, we do real damage to one of the very best things about our nation. While our arts and our religion do not need government funding to flourish, and can even be damaged by government funding, a project as massive as the space program simply cannot be viable at its current levels without significant government support. As such, when candidates are vying to run the government, their views on the space program definitely make a difference to me. While I hope that whoever becomes the next President will be bullish on space exploration, that Clinton appears more bullish than Obama is a real point in her column as far as I am concerned.