Coming off his blowout victory over Mitt Romney in South Carolina, the cradle of the secessionist South and ostensible hotbed of red-blooded conservatism, Newt Gingrich rolled into Florida’s economically decimated “Space Coast” and revealed his grand vision for the future: an American colony on the moon.
“By the end of my second term,” Gingrich said, “we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.”
That’s eight years from now.
Never mind the impracticality of the idea, we’ll assume that it is indeed possible to undertake such an endeavor as the creation and completion of a viable American moon colony in eight years.
But let’s flashback quickly to the night before Newt announced his audacious plan.
On Tuesday, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was tapped to deliver the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. In it, Daniels outlined a fairly standard set of latter-day Republican talking points to counter Obama’s calls to government action: “Financial Doomsday, Crippling Deficits, Debt will Destroy Us, etc.”
Here’s an excerpt of the response in which Daniels sums up America’s current financial situation (full text here):
In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we are only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out, if we are to avoid the fate of Europe, and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.
This message is indicative of the wider Republican preoccupation with debt and deficits that has consumed the party and its policy-making since the 2010 ascent of the Tea Party.
The Tea Party’s influence, though it may be waning today, launched the crusade against deficit spending and the federal government and allowed for the now-defunct presidential campaigns of Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry.
Today, the Tea Party coalition overwhelmingly supports would-be moon colonizer Newt Gingrich.
The space plan creates a bizarre ideological paradox.
While his policy page includes no mention of government infrastructure projects to improve American roads, bridges, internet connections, etc. (such a policy would be anathema to Tea Partiers given the financial state of the nation), he’d be willing to shell out the bucks to build a moon colony that’s sole discernible purpose is to give the finger to Russian and Chinese lookers-on.
Slate Magazine’s Lawrence Krauss today broke down Newt’s plan and came to the conclusion that it would cost no less than $1 trillion to create any sort of inhabitable American “state on the moon”, citing the fact that the projected cost of simply sending four men to the moon by 2018 is $104 billion.
So how is it that Newt, who inexplicably carries Tea Party support, and is making a serious run at the Florida primary, is able to propose what basically amounts to $1 trillion dollars in additional government spending over the next decade that would have virtually no benefit for the American people?
And how can this happen at the same time that Newt & co. call Barack Obama a socialist, and give him heat for wanting to use half of the money saved from the drawdown of the Iraq War for infrastructure investment?
Newt’s campaign, of course, is not built around a massive space program, but it is built around his self-created “ideas man” persona. This is simply the latest example of one of his “big ideas” which often involve a hefty dose of government intervention.
It is clear from the level of support that Newt maintains that the true grievance of the Tea Party faction of the GOP has less to do with an opposition to government action than pure reactionary anger against the “other” that they perceive to have wrecked America.
This rage most basic is not an ideology, it’s just fear that is now being harnessed and mobilized by the shrewd Mr. Gingrich for his own political gains.
For now, it’s working.