I've heard many claims from Republican apologists over the last few days that Sherwood Boehlert has been an important defender of science in Congress. This point is repeated so often that it seems to be a Boehlert campaign talking point, designed to stymie any effective Democratic resistance to Boehlert's cooperation with the overall Republican agenda in Congress. The number of 24th District Democrats who express the idea that "we can't criticize Boehlert because he protects science" is astonishing.
So, let's take this issue head on. Is Sherwood Boehlert actually an effective defender of science? In order to adequately answer this question, we need to look at the difference between posturing and effective action.
Sherwood Boehlert is an expert at posturing. He makes public statements. He writes open letters to government officials. He gives press conferences. Congressman Boehlert produces a lot of talk, and that talk creates the impression of action in the defense of science against attacks from the Religious Right and the Bush Administration.
But what has Sherwood Boehlert actually done? While Boehlert has talked up science budget increases, he has actually presided over significant cuts to science budgets. While Boehlert talks big about defending the integrity of science in the government, he has actually aligned himself with the very political party that is most hostile to scientific independence from political and economic pressure. Boehlert has written letters and made sound bites to create a pose against censorship of science by the Bush Administration, but has failed to conduct any real oversight to compensate for Bush Administration attacks against scientific integrity.
Where have the hearings into politically motivated censorship of science been? Where has the much-needed legislation to ban government censorship of science been? As chair of the House Committee on Science, it has been Sherwood Boehlert's responsibility to bring these countermeasures into force, but Boehlert has failed in this duty.
So, what are those apologists talking about, when they say that Sherwood Boehlert is pro-science? They're talking about pork barrel spending. Frankly, that kind of focus is short-sighted. Even if Sherwood Boehlert manages to use taxpayer money to toss a little bit of money to interest groups in the 24th district, that doesn't make up for his neglect in the face of a national Republican attack on science.
Besides, as of late, Sherwood Boehlert hasn't even succeeded in bringing meaningful money to the 24th District. He has tried to crow about a program in the budget, yet to be approved, that would spread a little bit more than $300 million in science spending across the United States, in the hope that a small fraction of that money might find its way to our region - no guarantees.
Besides, as much as George W. Bush talked about supporting science in his State of the Union Address, his actual budget makes science weaker, bringing in huge cuts to the basic education programs that provide the bread and butter for scientists across America. When it comes to promoting science, Bush, like Boehlert, is all talk.
And what of the focus of the small amount of science funding that the Bush budget Boehlert praises so much? Much of what they're calling science funding is actually for military projects that will enrich and empower big defense contractors, not scientific institutions. Consider that, in spite of all his earlier Moon Colony talk, Bush is cutting the NASA budget for Solar System exploration. On the other hand, Bush's budget increases funding for research into how to make America's nuclear weapons more "efficient" in their destructive power. At the same time that Bush and Boehlert are finding more money to find better ways to kill people, they are cutting money for medical research and treatment.
Sherwood Boehlert ought to be ashamed to be as complicit as he is in the corruption of government science by the Bush Administration. His record on science is nothing to be proud of. The next person that the 24th District sends to the House of Representatives needs to be a more honest and clear advocate for education and science in the federal government. Such a new, strong voice for science in the House would benefit us economically here in the 24th District, but more importantly, would help to restore America's lost position as the world leader in scientific innovation, securing the economic security of the American people for a new generation.