Tea Party Protesters Criticize Obama's Space Plan

Tea party activists demonstrated outside the Kennedy Center on Thursday while President Obama addressed NASA workers. The protesters accused the president of not providing NASA with a clear direction and a specific mission.

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President Obama's NASA address comes, as it happens, on April 15th, tax day. It's an important day for the Tea Party movement. Members are holding demonstrations today across the country. One of those demonstrations took place today outside the main gates of the Kennedy Space Center.

But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, the Tea Partiers were focused more on NASA's future and jobs than they were on the issue of taxes.

GREG ALLEN: They were lined up on both sides of the highway leading into the Kennedy Space Center, with their own disc jockey and sound system. People in passing cars honked and waved. Don Forward of the Titusville Patriot Group wouldn't guess how many Tea Partiers were expected.

Mr. DON FORWARD (Titusville Patriots): Oh, I don't know. We got them from all the way from the Villages, the Tri-County. We've got Space Coast, we've got Melbourne, we've got people from the Edgewater group. So, we've got pretty good representation down here today.

ALLEN: The target of their demonstration, President Obama, didn't come this way. He arrived on Air Force One on the shuttle landing strip inside the space center. Nearly every demonstrator carried a sign, sometimes two. And there were a variety of messages. There were the impassioned but generic Tea Party slogans: our liberty and freedom at stake. There were birthers, some holding signs questioning Mr. Obama's U.S. citizenship. But Forward said he was trying to get his group to focus today on a single message.

Mr. FORWARD: Today it's about saving space coast jobs.

ALLEN: Signs said: stop the war on success. And: NASA takes us up, Obama takes us down. Connie Smith, with Space Coast Patriots, said she was mad at the president and at Congress for not providing NASA with a clear direction and a specific mission. She said she didn't have a problem reconciling her Tea Party beliefs with her support for more NASA spending.

Ms. CONNIE SMITH (Space Coast Patriots): Now, some people might say this is an entitlement program. But the space center provides so many more benefits than any entitlement program. We get tons of technology, tons - and the high-paying jobs that come out of here. What high-paying jobs are we getting from Cash For Clunkers?

ALLEN: Although he's scaled back, all but canceled the Constellation manned mission program, President Obama has actually increased the NASA budget. And after the outcry about the Constellation, Mr. Obama has proposed pumping more money into the Kennedy Space Center, with programs that the White House says will add some 4,500 jobs. Like much the president says, Don Forward says he doesn't believe it.

Mr. FORWARD: I'm skeptical. I don't think it's going to be - they're virtual jobs, you know, it's nothing. And this is not going to help the people - it's going to be a lot of engineers and stuff like that, it's not going to help the day to day person who works out at the cape, actually making the cape run, I don't think it is.

ALLEN: Connie Smith said she hoped Democrats in Congress and others here wouldn't be swayed by a few extra dollars, what she called bribes, that may ultimately not help the workers or the area's economy.

Ms. SMITH: This area is a Republican area. You know, I can be conspiratorial and say, is he trying to crush this area? You know, you can look at it like that.

ALLEN: There were certainly no supporters of President Obama to be found among the Tea Partiers outside the Kennedy Space Center today. But I found one person, retired space worker John Schneider(ph), who had this admission to make.

Mr. JOHN SCHNEIDER: I don't completely disagree with what he's done. I don't completely.

ALLEN: Schneider said the president is right to outsource low-orbit manned space travel to the private sector and begin looking to missions beyond the moon. But that's something he says President Obama's plan lacks: a clear mission with a destination.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: We need a target. We need, you know, when John Kennedy said we'll be on the moon in 10 years, we were. I mean, we did it. But it took a bunch of money. They, you know, they did not spare the horses when it came to money.

ALLEN: You heard it right - in this case, Florida Tea Party members say what the country really needs is more government spending.

Greg Allen, NPR News, at the Kennedy Space Center.

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