Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) is the latest left-leaning politician to become annoyed with Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and Twitter. The tiff started with a Twitter exchange. It may end with a blatant abuse of power.
Markey tweeted with a complaint. “A @washingtonpost reporter was able to create a verified account impersonating me — I’m asking for answers from @elonmusk who is putting profits over people and his debt over stopping disinformation. Twitter must explain how this happened and how to prevent it from happening again.”
Musk, as is his habit when people annoy him, responded with a bit of snark. “Perhaps it is because your real account sounds like a parody?”
The senator was not amused.
“One of your companies is under an FTC consent decree. Auto safety watchdog NHTSA is investigating another for killing people. And you’re spending your time picking fights online. Fix your companies. Or Congress will.”
The spectacle of a U.S. senator threatening to use government power to settle a score with a private citizen — although admittedly the richest man in the world — should be unsettling. Markey is not the first left-leaning politician to cross swords with Musk on social media. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) once attacked Musk and his rival Jeff Bezos for commercializing space travel. More recently, Musk got into it with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) about how he was running Twitter.
One must suspect that Musk taking over Twitter is the development that really torques politicians on the left. No more will the social media platform run interference for Democrats, as it did when it censored the Hunter Biden laptop story just before the 2020 election. It didn’t help matters that Musk asked his 114 million followers to vote Republican in the recent midterm elections, the theory being that divided government is better for the nation.
Ironically, if Markey seriously goes after Musk, he will by extension attack the Biden administration agenda, of which Musk’s companies are an integral part.
SpaceX is already delivering astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station. The space launch company is also building the Human Landing System that will convey American astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time in over half a century.
Tesla, Musk’s electric car company, is also crucial for Biden’s green energy agenda. Although Biden has snubbed Tesla on more than one occasion because it is not a union shop, Markey’s support for the Green New Deal, which would destroy the fossil fuel economy and replace it with renewable energy by fiat, will require an explosion in electric vehicle sales, including by Tesla.
Starlink, Musk’s satellite communication network, has also been instrumental in helping Ukraine repel an invading Russian army from its territory.
In short, by attacking Musk, Markey is attacking the very agenda that Biden and the vast majority of Democrats support. President Joe Biden should get on the phone with Markey and tell him to stop the malarkey.
If Markey goes against Musk, he is likely to lose, in any case. Musk, barely in his fifties, has changed the world for the better in several ways. He has revolutionized the art of space travel, reducing the cost of launching things and people into space by orders of magnitude. He has brought the electric car from an oddity into the mainstream. His satellite communications network is opening the world to unfettered news and entertainment, no matter what tyrants like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, or the Iranian mullahs think. Nascent technologies sponsored by Musk, including Neuralink and Hyperloop, hold similar promise.
If Markey decides to hold hearings and drags Musk before a Senate committee, he may live to regret it. Musk is a consummate showman who knows how to turn the tables under harsh questioning. He also has allies on Capitol Hill who will be willing to run interference for him.
It’s better for Markey and the country as a whole if he drops the matter. Markey is not popular outside of Massachusetts. He should not, for his own sake at least, add to that unpopularity by going after the most transformative person of the 21st century.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond, and, most recently, Why is America Going Back to the Moon? He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.