I never thought I’d say this, but Newt Gingrich is right.
Call him a blowhard. Call him an egotist. Call him a moral hypocrite. Call him a bomb-thrower. Call him undisciplined and incapable of follow-through. Call him one of the most cynical, divisive, destructive politicians of the last few decades, the single worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party if he were nominated, and to the country if he were elected. I absolutely agree with all that.
And yet. Listen to him give this speech below, about a grand vision for space and for the renewal of American scientific ambition. And then tell me that that’s not exactly what Neil deGrasse Tyson would say (as he does, passionately, here), or Carl Sagan (who celebrated American optimism and big ideas, and wrote extensively on why colonizing space is vital to the human future):
Yes, Gingrich is playing to the Republican base and pressing the American exceptionalism pedal hard. But he’s absolutely right about the need for big goals — a lunar colony, a manned Mars mission — that can galvanize the nation, capture the imagination of the next generation, and inspire them to study and work hard to be part of it. At heart this is entirely compatible with President Obama’s call for all of us to pull together and work towards a common purpose; the continued expansion of humanity into space, I submit, is just such a purpose, one that can fire our hearts and minds and call on us to do great things.
For all the well-publicized reasons that I won’t repeat here, Gingrich is the wrong man to lead us. But even imperfect messengers, as I’ve argued, can deliver worthwhile ideas.
Update: Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the Gingrich speech here. He points out something that Gingrich, who supposedly opposes “big government,” glosses over: that the Apollo program Gingrich so highly praises was a massive government project — and that government, not the private sector, is what has historically funded and advanced the frontiers of exploration. Yet another reason (one Tyson also explains here) why government matters.