When good people do bad things, it is sad, but when they reach the point where one can predict that they will do nothing but bad things, a deeper kind of sadness sets in, almost at the level of resignation.
Having read the 2012 Republican Party Platform's section on space policy, I am not so much disappointed (as I passed that marker years ago) as I am in that place where a family goes when their junkie son gets arrested yet again after crashing all the family cars and selling off everything in the house to feed his addiction, and Dad says, "Here, son, take mine..." Primarily, I am confused. Having seen in Tampa several days of celebration of American ideals such as individual initiatives, entrepreneurship, and enterprise, to actually read the core document put out by the party and its take on U.S. space policy was almost nauseating. I had truly hoped that the obvious and glaringly real rise of an incredible and dynamic commercial space industry that is almost completely U.S.-born and bred would be embraced as an icon of a new, can-do, Right Stuff kind of American spirit. (We call it NewSpace, by the way.)
Nope. Didn't happen. Not only does the platform not embrace NewSpace, not only does it not speak of a bold new partnership to open the frontier, but it ignores the economic star of space completely in favor of reorganizing the government bureaucracy now in charge. To those who wrote what I believe will come to be seen, in years to come, as one of the great failures of the free-enterprise right, there is no space but government space, and no space without government control. It is a disaster, a dead end, and an embarrassing throwback to a Cold War, command-economy mentality, and I am sad for my Republican friends who get what is happening in space and have to somehow defend such a document.
Yet it reflects the reality we see in Washington of late. A member of the Republican Party can sit in a hearing and decry in fiery rhetoric the socialist satan of state-based medicine, waxing poetic about individual mandates and markets. They then get up, walk down the hall into a hearing on national space policy, and not only embrace the idol of a socialist space program but attack the idea of empowering the people of America to open space themselves, or encouraging NASA to hand off operational tasks to companies who are proving themselves ready over and over to take on the job so that our explorers can get back to exploring.
Yet I know that this probably-cash-induced myopia is not a party-wide syndrome. There are Republicans who have championed pro-Frontier policies for years. Robert Walker, Dana Rohrabacher, and others (including, yes, Newt Gingrich) have long understood the importance of a new partnership in space. Outside Washington, state and local leaders of both parties are actually competing for NewSpace businesses. For example, I held a meeting between Texas Governor Rick Perry and commercial space leaders recently, and he was, as they say, "all over it." He was on the ball, asking questions that spoke of knowledge, and proactively reaching out to do what he could to help space companies in the Lone Star State. I hear the same about the Republican governor of Virginia, and others.
It could be such a huge win for them, too. President Obama will go down in history as the man who opened space to the people by letting the private sector take over basic jobs like transport to orbit (and thus helping create a NewSpace commercial industry that opens the frontier). But Republicans could raise the ante, giving us direction and hardcore challenges to bring out our best. They could call for a new partnership between NASA and NewSpace to not just go back to the Moon but build a U.S. community there before 2020; to not just visit an asteroid but mine it for resources we now rip from the Earth; and to not just send astronauts to leave footprints on Mars in some distant future but put in place a plan for our first settlements on the Red Planet in the lifetimes of voters. That would be exciting! It would promote core values, create millions of jobs, and motivate a young demographic just when the party is losing them. But no. Not happening. They have pushed the bidding for the future down, not up. Now for the next round.
This week it was the Republicans. I am not holding my breath for the Democrats, because, as I said, this is not a partisan issue; it is a vision, lobbying, and control issue, between those who prize vision over greed and centralized power and those who don't. It is just more glaring in the case of those who espouse free enterprise and smaller government in other areas as the solution to our national ills.
Somewhere along the way (perhaps at 60 miles, the edge of space?) the concept of being pro-business and for small government shifted in the Republican Party to mean pro-government control and for big government projects -- even if, in the end, like giving money and car keys to a junkie, it ends up killing everyone's dreams.
NewSpace is everything we want in this nation: energy, entrepreneurship, and excitement that spurs education, innovation, and an enlightened approach to the future. NewSpace companies are staffed by young, new leaders who worship the giants who got us here, such as the recently passed Neil Armstrong, and are eager to work with NASA to do great things together -- but we have to both give them a chance and get out of the way. And the first step is acknowledging that they exist, and acknowledging their importance at a time when so many bemoan our failing leadership. It is insane not to, but sadly, this is just what the Republicans have done, and I am afraid the Democrats will, too.
We need a change, and I frankly don't care which party it comes from. Leadership in space is not about which party you belong to; it is about vision. Being a Kennedy Democrat doesn't automatically mean you have it, and being a Republican doesn't mean you automatically don't. After all, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes tried to create projects that, had they not been destroyed by the space-industrial complex (SIC), would have had a space station in orbit by 1992 and humans already living on the Moon and probably Mars.
Like most Americans I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I am pro-future, pro-hope, and pro-abundance. I am pro-frontier, and will talk to and work with anyone else who shares my belief that it is our goal and destiny to expand life and civilization into space. I may publish writings in what some see as liberal venues, but I work, at times closely, with the far right. You see, the frontier is not a partisan issue; it is an American issue. It is an issue that concerns our very future and our ability to appreciate, understand, and support our own people when they take on the challenge of literally lifting the nation to a higher place.
As I said, there are those in both parties who understand the absolutely pivotal importance of this seemingly incidental issue. We are at the turning point of human civilization, and a few decisions made by a few people can make all the difference.
Right now, on the right, we have the wrong people, and on the left the right people are being attacked for the wrong reasons, by those who prefer the status quo to the uncertainty of the adventure ahead. But each time a new rocket flies, more minds change. Each time a new space company is created, more attention is drawn to the cause. And each new politician who gets it means one less roadblack and perhaps one more champion for the frontier and the future. So there is hope -- if the well-greased palms of those now holding the wheel can be pried away and better drivers put in their place.
OK, Democrats, it's your turn: Show us you get it when it comes to the space revolution.