MCCAIN: You know, we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue, but the fact is that it was $3 million of our taxpayers' money. And it has got to be brought under control.McCain tried to deadpan that line about the study of bear DNA as a criminal or a paternity issue. It was a joke, a laugh line, one he's had as part of his standard array of speeches for a while. But nobody laughed Friday night.* And some people have been not laughing at this line for a while.
As President of the United States, I want to assure you, I've got a pen. This one's kind of old. I've got a pen, and I'm going to veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk. I will make them famous. You will know their names.
Currently the front-runner for the GOP nod, McCain also hits the research in speeches on the stump, cracking jokes about bear paternity tests and criminal investigations. "I don't know if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money," McCain railed last month during a campaign stop in Clawson, Mich. Scientists, however, are not amused: They insist that the study is not only worth every penny but that the $3-million price tag cited in the ad is, in a word, wrong.
Anyone who has been paying attention to the McCain-Palin campaign knows that they have never let the truth stand in the way of a clever-sounding phrase.** If John McCain really doesn't know the reason behind the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project, all he has to do is ask - or ask someone else to look it up online for him.
Over time a very disturbing picture of John McCain has gradually formed as someone with little regard for science. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has kept up a steady stream of posts outlining the candidates' positions on science, and McCain's position is scary, to say the least: see here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Does he know more than he is letting on, or is he the sort who views basic research as a waste of time and money? I don't know - but from his "criminal issue or paternal issue" quip, I fear it is the latter, not the former.
LEHRER: What I'm trying to get at this is this. Excuse me if I may, senator. Trying to get at that you all -- one of you is going to be the President of the United States come January. At the -- in the middle of a huge financial crisis that is yet to be resolved. And what I'm trying to get at is how this is going to affect you not in very specific -- small ways but in major ways and the approach to take as to the Presidency.
MCCAIN: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs.
LEHRER: Spending freeze?
MCCAIN: I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans national defense and several other vital issues.
So how much federally-funded science do you think will fall into that "other vital issues" category? I'm willing to bet "none." Do you think McCain was just talking out his ass here, or is this something he would really carry out?
That's not the sort of question you want to have answered the hard way.
*Mainly because the rules of the debate demanded absolute silence from the members of the audience.
**"I said thanks, but no thanks" anyone?