Senator McCain’s Science and Technology Policies

May 22nd, 2008

Posted by: admin

Check out the candidates’ science and technology related policies here.

In this post I want to assess Senator McCain’s science and technology related policies.

Arguably Senator McCain has placed the least emphasis of the three candidates on science and technology policies. To be fair, I don’t think any of the candidates have placed a great deal of emphasis on science and technology policies – at least in the same way that the constituent advocacy groups would like. For instance, all three senators have advanced cap-and-trade plans for carbon emissions (McCain’s plan is the only one that would issue the carbon credits for free). This is likely considered by most as an environmental policy rather than a science and technology policy (I think the notion that the two policy areas are often considered independent of each other is a problem for those interested in seeing science and technology policies gain more political cachet).

While I don’t think Senator McCain would ignore science and technology policy (or has – he did serve as Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over most of the science portfolio), hewing to the traditional Republican line would imply embracing policies that would either leave action to the private sector, or provide incentives for the private sector to invest or take other desired action. Whether or not this is an area of policy where McCain will be a traditional Republican or not is not clear given the lack of statements from the McCain campaign on the traditional areas of science policy. You can infer from the absence of those statements that he would, but the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. For instance, he is of a kind with the Democratic candidates in opposing the stem cell research ban. So it’s possible that he might be the least hands-off of the Republicans who ran for President this year, but more hands-off than the two Democratic contenders.

There have been recent events that suggest McCain could disappoint those concerned with science and technology policy.

This past March Senator McCain made a good impression of Senator William Proxmire (noted for awarding the “Golden Fleece” award to government projects he thought were a waste of time). He objected to a study of grizzly bear DNA in a campaign commercial. Such studies are typical low-hanging targets that sound like a big waste when they are usually small dollars – at least in terms of the whole budget. You can read about this incident in this Washington Post article.

In January of this year, I read an article in the Washington Post noting the lack of attention given to technology in the campaign (which I am having trouble finding online). The author quoted McCain about technology, indicating it could be something he would assign to his vice-president. Do note that President Clinton did something similar during his administration, so perhaps Senator McCain’s vice-presidential choice could be as relevant to the science and technology policy communities as his choice for science adviser.

There are also concerns over McCain’s environmental plans, which have been criticized as not going as far as necessary. Given where I’m posting, I’ll leave it for others to plumb those problems.

In short, McCain’s science and technology policies are notable as much for what is not said by the campaign as much as what is said. It reflects a conventional Republican perspective, focusing more on technology than science, and more on market solutions than government support. While I suspect most advocates will find him wanting, I suspect that for most voters, there are other issues that will determine whether they support McCain or not. I think the same is true for the other candidates.

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