A bright spot in the Bush budget is more money to nurture more bright people - no, not just kids who can solve a Rubik's cube in 11 seconds, but the types who invented the Internet or can build the most high-tech widgets or teach the future Einsteins.
The iPod nation needs an eyewash about its techno-future.
While still the world leader in science and engineering, America has let its technological edge become dull. Federal aid for basic physical sciences has dipped, companies aren't investing as much in long-term research, and schools aren't producing enough students who are both competent and interested in science and math to match the competition from nations such as India and China.
Among high school seniors in 21 top countries, the US ranks 16th in science. Its math ranking is 19th. News like that should create another Sputnik moment for the US.
Up-and-coming poor countries with burgeoning brainpower are competing on more than wages. US-based companies often prefer the technical skills of Chinese workers and the innovation of Indian researchers, or they simply seek special US visas to import them. That is hollowing out US manufacturing and leaving too many lesser-skilled Americans losing out on factory jobs.
Nudged into action by a few Democratic and Republican senators, as well as key high-tech leaders, the president has proposed a "competitiveness initiative," which he sees as a prime domestic cause for the rest of his presidency. He's smart to find an issue with bipartisan support to help dampen Washington's blue-red schism.
President Bush has asked Congress to commit $136 billion to science and math education over the next 10 years. That would help train and hire 70,000 new science and math teachers for Advanced Placement courses in high schools.
He also wants to allow 30,000 professionals in those fields to become math and science teachers, and to create incentives for students to sign up for those courses. One big incentive is a plan to add science to the accountability testing in public schools under the No Child Left Behind law.
Bush also wants to make permanent a tax credit for R&D in industry and double funding for research in basic areas such as nanotechnology.
Such steps aren't simply aimed at raising the number of scientists and engineers (many of whom have left some overpopulated fields) or producing more high-tech workers. They're also aimed at pushing people into new fields and keeping up US quality in creative discoveries, inventions, and innovations. The nation has to generate a lot of frogs to find an Edison prince.
Unlike the post-Sputnik spurt in US science education and spending during the 1960s, the rapid pace of today's global competition compels the US to keep its investment in these fields permanently high. It's become a net importer of high-tech goods and lost its lead in patents - despite its current high R&D spending.
Bush must work as closely with Democrats in passing these measures as he did to pass the No Child act. Politics isn't rocket science, but rocket scientists and their colleagues need politicians to keep the US aloft in science.