You'd think that being a Republican, Newt Gingrich would be an elephant — and that he might even have been an inspiration for Ellis, the patriotic pachyderm in Sweet Land of Liberty, a children's book by Mrs. Gingrich III. But no, Gingrich is not an elephant. Born in 1943, he is a goat. That's according to my pirated edition of Encyclopedia of the Chinese Zodiac, which tells us that the character traits of the goat include being elegant and artistic, and charming with people — although always getting off on the wrong foot with them. The best career choices for goats? Actor, gardener, or beachcomber. Let's consider these options for Newt the goat, just in case things don't pan out for him in this year of the dragon.
Actor: This one is pretty simple. All politicians, at least the successful ones, are natural-born actors. Anyone who has twice managed to wiggle and worm his way out of a marriage — once at his wife's hospital bed, and the second time while championing a congressional bill on personal responsibility — must have a knack for Oscar-worthy acting. The zodiac readings don't lie; Newt can indeed be elegant, artistic, and charming, just like an actor. He even runs a film production company.
Newt isn't proposing a race to the top — he wants a race to the mop.
Gardener: No way, Jose! This is the kind of job the goat has reserved for those who live on welfare, speak "the language of the ghetto," and prefer food stamps to paychecks. In 1993, at the height of his drive to "renew America," the goat wrote, "For poor minorities, entrepreneurship in small business is the key to future wealth. This is understood thoroughly by most of the Asians, partially by Latinos, and to a tragically small degree by much of the American black community."
But how does Gingrich's supposed push for minority-owned small businesses square with his plan to scrap child labor laws? "I've tried for years to have a very simple model," Gingrich said late last year. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."
Is that really the way to teach minority students the values they'll need to dream of "entrepreneurship in small business?" What about pre-K education, after-school programs, better pay for teachers, relief from the onerous federal No Child Left Behind Law? How about a renewed national focus on science and mathematics, so that America's kids can keep up with their number-crunching competitors in other countries? How about affordable tuitions and readily available student loans at public universities, so that minority students can get the educations they need to embark on small business careers in the first place? Don't get your hopes up. A Goat Administration is interested in no such things.
President Obama has long backed its Race to the Top. As policy, the program is hardly perfect. But the Obama administration has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to several states, with the aim (among others) of closing the achievement gap by "developing new approaches to raising the bar across early learning centers." But Newt isn't proposing a race to the top — he wants a race to the mop.
Which brings us to...
Beachcombing: This seems like a more exciting career for the goat than acting, especially in light of his space travel dream. Just imagine the fun of combing the caverns by the lunar sea. In the last GOP debate in Florida, Mitt Romney (born in 1947, and thus a pig) accused Newt the goat of unveiling his moon colony scheme just to woo voters on Florida's Space Coast, which has been crippled by NASA budget cuts. The pig doesn't know what he's talking about. (Does he ever?) This is no primary-season pander. The goat has long kept an eye on the sky, cooking up wacky ideas ranging from shooting down Chinese missiles with orbital lasers to reducing crime with giant space mirrors. His bold ambition for establishing a lunar colony dates back to 1995, as he waxed poetic in one of his many books, "I believe that space tourism will be a common fact of life… [and] honeymoons in space will be the vogue by 2020. Imagine the weightlessness and its effects and you will understand some of the attractions. Imagine looking out at the Earth from your honeymoon suite and you will understand even more why it will be a big item."
Of course, Newt's big ideas are a little too big. But there's nothing wrong with looking to the stars. America's space program was once a wellspring of national pride — not to mention thousands upon thousands of jobs. With the winding down of NASA's shuttle program, Florida's Space Coast has been decimated, and Americans are left hitching rides to space on Russian vehicles. The goat is right to look skyward — it's only his motives and approach that are suspect.
You see, there is a rather insidious reason for the goat to promote the lunar colony at this moment: Red Scare. As he emphasized in the Florida debate, "I want Americans to get to the moon before the Chinese do." Riling up a patriotic fever to pilfer votes is a time-honored, shameless trick. And if we really are to build a lunar colony, we'll need all the help we can get — from the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians (who have already landed an unmanned probe on the moon), and anyone else who wants to pitch in. Space exploration provides a perfect opportunity for international collaboration. The alternative? In a time when America is mired in deficit, it may be cost-effective to send some politicians to the moon just to stop them from wrecking our country.
Which brings me to my last point. To be fair, the goat's chance of beachcombing by the lunar sea in 2020 is about the same as winning the presidency this year. If he does pack up and go there, likely to the tune of "Fly Me to the Moon," the goat will probably sit in his lair, regretting that he once ridiculed that blue ball looming large in space as "Planet Obama." For once, he has called something by its right name. Mark Twain said, "There's no humor in heaven." He forgot to mention irony on the moon.