To the Moon, Callista! Newt Gingrich Promises Lunar Colony by 2020

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Returning to a favorite subject over the years, Gingrich inadvertently reveals how little he's interested in real, rational problem-solving.

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Speaking at a Florida community college Wednesday, Newt Gingrich promised voters hit hard by the end of the Space Suttle program that by the end of his second term, there will be an American colony on the moon. Ultimately, he said, it ought to be the 51st state. (Sorry, Puerto Rico.)

This wasn't just a pander conceived in the present campaign.

As Charles Homans notes, the former House Speaker has been touting extravagant lunar missions since at least 1984: "At first, it would be a rough, provisional thing: Crews of four to six people would shunt to and from the outpost on three or six month shifts... preparing for a more permanent lunar presence," Homans writes. "It would be a hardscrabble frontier life, but if all went according to plan, a decade later, the base would have blossomed into a full-blown colony, home to as many as 300 people. By mid-century, it would have a population the size of a respectable Midwestern dairy town, its residents busy tending to bustling robot-assisted manufacturing and agricultural industries."

This story is inherently irresistible to journalists and readers alike. You clicked, didn't you? But it's also in keeping with Gingrich's penchant for big, visionary ideas -- or if you're a Gingrich critic, his skill at creating the illusion that he has big, visionary ideas, even though he seldom utters anything that is both original and viable. Lincoln-Douglas debates! A space colony! He understands what subjects capture the public's imagination, and by associating himself with them, he bets that some of their majesty will rub off. Or so I've long thought. What's most notable about this latest foray into pseudo-big think is that he's partly confirmed the theory of his detractors.

Why a lunar colony? "I come at space from the standpoint of a romantic belief that it is really part of our destiny," he said. And the damning line that's so far gone mostly unremarked upon?

The reason you have to have a bold and large vision is you don't arouse the American nation with trivial, bureaucratic, rational objectives.

Interesting, isn't it, that he conceives of "bold and large vision" as something that explicitly isn't rational. That is telling. Problem-solving isn't his object. He aims, as he tells us, to arouse the American people.

I've got a perfect "bold but irrational" slogan for his campaign: "Newt Gingrich -- he's like Viagra for the national psyche." (Side effects may include nausea, bigger deficits, self-aggrandizing speeches, foreign wars, demagoguery against Muslims, ethics scandals, and shameless demonstrations of moral hypocrisy. Not to be combined with actual executive power.)

Image: Aly Song / Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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