Moon colonies! Death rays! A brief history of Newt Gingrich's 'crazy' ideas
"I think grandiose thoughts," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said at a recent presidential debate. "This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects." Newt's latest big project? "By the end of my second term," Gingrich told a Florida crowd this week, "we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American." Of course, Newt's grand vision is hardly limited to lunar colonies. Here, 10 other "crazy" ideas from the GOP's "big thinker in chief":
1. Shoot lasers at North Korea
In April 2009, Newt told Fox News that if he were president, he would use "unconventional methods" to stop North Korea from launching a missile, including lasers. He "was likely talking about the Airborne Laser, the [Pentagon's] jumbo jet tricked out with a missile-zapping directed energy cannon," says Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman at Wired. As speaker, Newt was a tireless champion of that failed, over-budget project.
2. Launch "orbital death rays"
Newt once thought even bigger when it came to lasers. "Way after the fantastical Star Wars era of missile defense was over," say Shachtman and Ackerman, "Gingrich was still enthusiastically promoting the idea of shooting down ballistic missiles from space" with "orbital death rays." In 2002, Newt told PBS that space lasers were the key to stopping Russian and Chinese missiles: "If I could have a satellite in space that guaranteed that you could stop a missile in the boost phase, and as a result you didn't lose Los Angeles or Atlanta or Washington, I would think that was a pretty good trade." Please note, says SupervillainOrNewt.com: "This is also essentially the plot of Diamonds Are Forever."
3. Kill marijuana smugglers
"Before Newt Gingrich left Congress," says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, "he sponsored a piece of legislation that ought to haunt him to this day." The Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996 would have given life sentences to anyone convicted of bringing more than two ounces or so of pot into the U.S. "Repeat offenders would be executed." Irony alert: "Gingrich himself is a confessed pot smoker," says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. "When he was young, he said, experimenting with drugs 'was a sign we were alive.'"
4. Reduce crime with "space mirrors"
In 1984, Newt spoke admiringly of an idea to install giant mirrors in space to light up the night sky like the equivalent of "many full moons," says Linda Feldman at The Christian Science Monitor, eliminating the need to illuminate highways and reducing opportunities for criminals to lurk in darkness. Look, "I'm for national greatness conservatism," says David Brooks at The New York Times, "but this is a little too great."
5. Let terrorists attack us
The more successful the Bush administration has been at foiling bad guys, said Gingrich in 2008, "the less proof there is that we're in danger" and the less vigilant Americans are. Newt's fix: Allow an attack to get through "every once in a while... just to remind us." Ooof, says Tommy Christopher at Mediaite. "The kindest interpretation of this foot-in-mouth moment is that the former speaker was making an abstract wish for vigilance."
6. "Hack the planet"
In 2008, Gingrich suggested that "geo-engineering holds forth the promise of addressing global-warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year." What is geo-engineering? It's the fringy notion, say Shachtman and Ackerman, that the "only way to stop catastrophic climate change" is to "hack the planet" by injecting sulfur particles into our atmosphere or using genetically-engineered plants as "living carbon vacuum cleaners." What could go wrong? Quite a lot, says Alex Seitz-Wald at ThinkProgress. Geo-enginnering "is considered so dangerous that it faced a ban from the U.N."
7. Prepare for an inevitable EMP attack
Newt worries a lot about "a nuclear blast high above the United States that would instantly throw the nation into a dark age," says William J. Broad at The New York Times. "The idea is that if a nuclear weapon, lofted by a missile, were detonated in outer space high above the American heartland, it would set off a huge and crippling shockwave of electricity" called an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that would "fry electrical circuits from coast to coast." In his foreword to a 2009 sci-fi thriller, Newt warned that "millions would die in the first week alone." Let's just call this an "unusual phobia for outlandish doomsday scenarios," says Seitz-Wald.
8. Send farmers to space
"If we'd spent as much on space as we've spent on farm programs," Gingrich told the World Science Fiction Convention in 1986, "we could have taken all the extra farmers and put them on space stations working for a living in orbiting factories." Of course! says Tim Murphy at Mother Jones. Curiously, Newt neglected to mention this idea to Iowa's sizable voting bloc of farmers.
9. Mine the moon
"The moon is an enormous natural resource," Newt has said. "Structural glass and ceramics can be made by crushing rocks and molding them by hand; oxygen and water can be manufactured from the moon's soil to form life-support systems for humans." Hey, says Murphy, "don't forget unobtainium."
10. Make the moon America's 51st state
"Newt Skywalker" doesn't just want to colonize the moon — he wants to give it American statehood, too. Back when he was in the House, Newt "authored a bill that would allow a lunar colony to apply for statehood once it reached 13,000 residents," UPI reports. OK, Gingrich acknowledged this week. That may just be the "weirdest thing I've ever done."