Over the weekend, without much fanfare, the Romney campaign opened up a new front in its foreign-policy attacks on Barack Obama: space exploration. During a stop at the University of Central Florida, roughly an hour away from the Kennedy Space Center, Paul Ryan blasted the president for scrapping NASA's moon and space shuttle programs (the Obama administration has suggested sending NASA astronauts to an asteroid and Mars, and encouraged private companies to assume some of the agency's past responsibilities).
"[W]e are conceding our global position as the unequivocal leader in space," Ryan declared. "Today, if we want to send an astronaut to the space station, we have to pay the Russians to take him there. China may someday be looking down on us from the moon. That's unacceptable." The vice presidential candidate's comments came on the same day that the Romney campaign published a white paper on space policy -- one that invited some finger-wagging from Newt Gingrich, who, during the primary, pledged to establish an American colony on the moon by the end of his second term. "Romney is better than [President] Obama on space but could be bolder and more visionary," the former House speaker noted in response to the plan.
What's remarkable about the white paper is how closely it hews to the Romney team's larger critique of Obama's foreign policy. There's the charge that the president has diminished U.S. power by alienating allies and emboldening rivals:
Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to deliver a coherent policy for human space exploration and space security. As a result, he has created uncertainty and confusion within U.S. industry and the international community. The President's disjointed collection of scientific project slack guiding principles, plausible objectives, or a roadmap for long-run success. They also have left American astronauts to hitch rides into space on Russian spacecraft. America's capabilities are eroding, and with each passing year will become more difficult to rebuild.
The accusation that Obama is weak on national security:
In addition to the troubles at NASA, there are less publicized problems surrounding our national security and commercial space communities. Many of our national security space programs are significantly over budget and behind schedule, and many are designed to meet yesterday's threats.
And the argument that the president doesn't believe in American exceptionalism and apologizes for America, while refusing to lead (the politics aren't straightforward here; as Space Politics noted last year, polling suggests that the public wants the United States to be a leader in space exploration but doesn't want to pay for it):
Today we have a space program befitting a President who rejects American exceptionalism, apologizes for America, and believes we should be just another nation with a flag. We have been put on a path that cedes our global position as the unequivocal leader in space.
What's odd about the earnest (if still vague) plan is that Romney ridiculed Gingrich's moon colony plan during the primary ("If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired'"), while Ryan voted against the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Neither has discussed space exploration much on the campaign trail until now. Perhaps Romney and Ryan have had a change of heart. Or they've decided that if they're going to portray Obama as weak and declinist, they better go all out.
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