Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Kenneth P. Yale

One of the things I’d like to reiterate is something that Charles Herzfeld said, and that is, in the Bush administration, science was at its high point. And Al Teich, I think, as you saw, demonstrated this with some factual data.

But one thing that I think is perhaps more important, and is the lasting legacy of the Reagan-Bush era, was the careful and measured approach that Charlie also mentioned, and I think it kind of went by us. It was alluded to by a variety of people here, and it’s actually an academic issue in terms of how science affects and impacts policy at the national level. It’s a very important issue, because it really addresses two key questions. The first one is, how do you insert scientific and technical information into a politically charged environment? How do you take those issues—those factual issues—and put them into a policy environment where you’re dealing with issues like a superconducting supercollider? What are the technical issues behind that? Is it just a political decision because you want a lot of votes from Texas, or is there some technical validity behind it? And if there is technical validity behind that, what are the technical issues—such as the magnets which Tom Ratchford and others dealt with—what are the physical problems that you’re going to come up against in developing those magnets, and is it physically possible to have such a large mega-project?

Chilean grapes—I don’t know how many of you remember, back in 1989, we were all concerned about the Chilean grape scare, where we stopped Chilean grapes at the border; we stopped a lot of fruits and vegetables. We created a crisis internationally because we thought there were some problems with the grapes coming in. As it turned out, the validity of those scientific tests were later called into question, and in fact, the grapes really had no problems coming into the country. If we had valid scientific information available, it would have been a better way to inform our policy process.

Acid rain is another one, electromagnetic radiation—the issue of toasters causing cancer, so to speak—global climate change—a lot of these issues require us to take a look at the scientific and technical issues as well as the political issues. The perspective, as Tom Ratchford mentioned, science and technology for policy.

The other set of issues that we tried to address was, how do you advance science-and-technology policy—what Tom Ratchford mentioned, basically, policy for science and technology—again, in an environment where you’re trying to balance the technical and the political forces. Issues such as human genome, high-performance computing and communications, the Internet—which, in fact, began in the Reagan administration but really came to fruition in the Bush administration, and was picked up for political reasons by Al Gore. So how do you advance those? And basically, how do you coordinate all the research and development resources within the government to make them most productive and useful? It’s the age-old

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