THE BLOG
07/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Chase The Center When You Can Rendezvous with It?

Democrats hoping to win elections this fall by racing to the center should sit down and have a conversation with Buzz Aldrin.

The second man to set foot on the moon on Apollo 11 is also one of NASA's leading authorities on the subject of rendezvous in space. This was a key element to completing the task of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth, and also a prerequisite for assembling and docking with the International Space Station.

Buzz, by the way, was a super geek on this subject. According to fellow moon dweller Alan Bean, he was not the kind of guy you wanted to hang with at a party. While you may have been interested in the hottie across the room, all he wanted to talk about was rendezvous. But Aldrin's obsession was a virtue that transcended the image of the party-going, jet-setting astronaut of the 60's. Rendezvous was everything because it was the only way that NASA could land men on the moon and get them home by the end of the decade, as JFK had challenged. The moment when that challenge was finally met was one that changed the world forever.

So lets' geek out for a moment. In order to rendezvous with another craft in space, you can't just fly directly to it, not in zero gravity. That will exhaust all of your fuel and you won't be able to get home. What you have to do is determine the direction your target is going and the height of its orbit. Then you launch your craft in the same direction, but at a slightly higher orbit to allow the target to catch up (or a lower orbit to catch up to the target). Then, through a series of very small and precise maneuvers, using less propellant, you intercept the target and fly alongside it at a speed of around 20,000 mph. Then you link up. Mission accomplished. But it must be done exactly right or the mission fails.

So what does this have to do with winning elections? To win an election decisively, you need to capture the center vote, but if you race straight to it you run the risk of losing your base. But what if you rendezvoused with it? Let's say you're Barack Obama. Your campaign is fueled by your political capital, which you have lots of having won the primary. But you risk exhausting most of this capital by moving as quickly as possible to the center. This is an especially big risk now because BushCo has managed to move the center so far to the right. But after seven years of disaster, scandal and general embarrassment, the center is now beginning to shift back to the left at a moderate speed and a low orbit. The national movement that Obama has created has launched his campaign to a higher altitude than the conventional wisdom of the swinging center. So what he needs to do is remain at this altitude, stay on message, keep making sense and let the center catch up with him. As it draws nearer, a series of subtle but sincere overtures to the center and the right will put both forces on the same course at the same speed and altitude.

Then you dock with them. At that point, history is made and the world is changed. Then you head home and land safely on the porch of the White House.