"To the Moon!I remember how inspiring President John F. Kennedy's challenge to get to the moon in a decade was. And the utter thrill in seeing Americans walking on the moon.
"I've got to say, I don't like the way everyone thinks Newt's desire to go back to the moon is proof of his craziness. Now, yes, when the country is drowning in debt, proposing a moon colony is arguably politically crazy (though Floridians on the Space Coast probably don't think so). Indeed, when you have a reputation for saying whacked-out stuff, leading with your lunar ambitions can be confused too easily for lunacy itself ('I see what you did there' -- The Couch).
"But look: I like the idea of space exploration and I see it as one of the few areas where government can and should be involved. No, that doesn't mean I'm in favor of a big white elephant, or Amtrak in space. I think Gingrich is largely right about prizes and the like. When Romney had his line about corporate America having no interest in going to space, he was being deliberately obtuse. Of course 'corporate America' isn't much interested in going to space (though obviously some firms are). That's why you create prizes so you can get corporate America, and Americans generally, interested in going to space.
"I'm a cathedrals-in-space guy. In a previous life, I made a breathtakingly mediocre documentary about Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I learned a lot in the process. One of the enduring takeaways for me was that there are some things society invests in to inspire everyone. The rich can always afford art and inspiration; cathedrals provided art and inspiration for rich and poor alike. In the Middle Ages, cathedral-building represented a space race of a sort. They were built on the highest land around and city-states competed to build the tallest spires in order to get closer to God.
"We are a pioneering people, and I see the effort to, as Reagan said, 'slip the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God' as a worthwhile endeavor for a great nation. I bet the Founders would be more comfortable with the idea of American expansion to the moon than with, say, Medicare. Can you say 'Louisiana Purchase in spa-a-a-a-a-a-ace'?
"If that's all too frilly for you, think of it this way: Lord knows I'm no Keynesian, but if you believe even a fraction of this multiplier stuff or a scintilla about the need to train up a new generation of scientists and engineers, then spending money on space exploration makes a lot more sense than most of the junk in the stimulus. I'm completely pragmatic about how to do it, and heavily biased toward free-market approaches, but I think it's worth doing.
"The mockery of Gingrich over this seems more like a poor reflection on our own national spirit than on Gingrich himself."
It's instructive to remember that JFK said that at a time when the U.S. was in the economic doldrums. That's why Kennedy wanted tax cuts--to spur the economy. What happened that allowed the space race to heat up enough to meet that magnificent goal was that the U.S. economy boomed under President Lyndon Johnson. But, even in leaner times, Kennedy had a vision that inspired Americans.
I agree with Jonah Goldberg that the problem is not with Gingrich's vision, but with the small, cramped spirit of too many American politicians. This is an issue that touches on belief in American exceptionalism and whether the U.S. is just another country or a world leader.
Well said, Jonah!