During a recent trip to the Middle East, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Al-Jazeera that one of the three main goals given him by President Obama upon his appointment to his post was to reach out to the Muslim world on matters of science, mathematics, and engineering (the other two being inspiring children to enter fields related to math and science, and improving international relations). While this isn’t necessarily a charge I would have given the head of the American space program — I’d rather tell the NASA Administrator to work on, you know, sending people and robots into space to explore and expand our understanding of the universe and stuff — I can’t find too much fault with it. Afterall, it was science that helped to lift the fog of ignorance, bigotry and religious fundamentalism that once choked western culture. Perhaps our president hopes to wield it for that purpose again, this time to coax the Muslim world toward modernity.
It’s a noble, stirringly optimistic idea that has President Obama’s critics jeering and rolling their eyes. (Though I can’t recall anything Obama has done since his election that hasn’t provoked an identical response from that crowd.) Conservatives — who by and large have never shown much enthusiasm for the space program, even when Apollo spacecraft were carrying humans safely to the surface of the Moon and back — are now complaining that Obama is straying from NASA’s mission of exploration. Byron York has been complaining about it all week.
Where was this outrage from the right earlier this year when the president canceled funding for the already under-funded and behind-schedule Constellation program? Why were there so few conservative voices speaking up for NASA these last thirty years as the agency, once the source of our greatest triumphs, shrank into the background? Isn’t it odd that the likes of Sean Hannity can only muster outrage at the president’s handling of the space program when he uses it to extend a hand to the Muslim world?
The worst part of this story isn’t the reminder of the space program’s cultural irrelevance, or the unconcealed hypocrisy of the far-right. Both of those have been givens for a long time. No; the worst part is how, in responding to this trumped-up controversy, Bill O’Reilly — yes, fucking Bill O’Reilly — has become a clear-headed voice of reason.
I don’t expect it to last, so get a good look while you can. Here is a clip from tonight’s O’Reilly Factor, with O’Reilly discussing NASA’s Muslim outreach with Arthel Neville and the least amusing person on television not named “Glenn Beck,” Greg Gutfeld:
I note two things. First, how giddily amused Gutfeld is by his own painfully unfunny attempted jokes, and second, how on-the-money O’Reilly is. It’s a fucked-up, crazy world, ain’t it?