It’s not often that moon bases play a key role in presidential politics, but when Mitt Romney sought to draw a contrast with front-runner Newt Gingrich during Saturday’s ABC debate, he explained: “We could start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon.” The comment drew laughter from the audience, but Gingrich is serious. “I’m proud” of the idea, Gingrich said. “I grew up in a generation where the space program was real, where it was important.”
Indeed, Gingrich has had a long fascination with ideas that most Americans would probably consider science fiction. Gingrich’s top five science fiction ideas, beyond moon bases:
1. EMP attack: As the New York Times notes today, Gingrich has a unusual phobia for outlandish doomsday scenarios like an electromagnetic pulse attack, even though most nuclear experts dismiss the threat. He even wrote the foreword to a 2009 sci-fi thriller based on an EMP attack.
2. Space mirrors: Gingrich has proposed a “a mirror system in space [that] could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for nighttime lighting of the highways.”
3. Space lasers: Gingrich has flirted with several variations of orbiting death rays. For example, in 2002 he called for “directed energy weapons and laser pulsing systems that could actually [shoot down missiles] from space.” “If you go to a space-based system, we can almost certainly build a workable system,” he said in 2009.
4. Geo-engineering: Gingrich has suggested that instead of actually stopping global warming from happening (this was when he believed in global warming), we should use geoengineering to ameliorate its impact. “Geo-engineering holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year,” Gingrich said in 2008. Geo-engineering is the process of artificially altering the climate in fundamental ways and is considered so dangerous that it faced a ban from the U.N.
5. A better life through video games: Gingrich made a political speech to Second Life in 2007 in which he said that the “3-D Internet in all of its various forms” will help create a better “parallel country.” “It’s a parallel that enables us to do things that would be much more difficult to do in the real world.. [It’s a] world that works.” Second Life has basically failed.
Gingrich’s “futuristic proselytizing” even earned him the nickname “Newt Skywalker” among the local press in his home state of Georgia in the 1980s and ’90s, Politico notes today.
But Gingrich’s fascination with science fiction goes far deeper than gadgets and to his core motivations as a politician. Ray Smock was the historian of the U. S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 1995 until Gingrich fired him as one of Gingrich’s first acts as Speaker. As Smock wrote last week for the History News Network, Gingrich’s “hero and role model” was the protagonist of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, who invents a new field of history — Gingrich is himself a historian — and fundamentally changes the course of history for thousands of planets in the process. A tagline of the series is, “In a future century the Galactic Empire dies and one man creates a new force for civilized life.” As Smock writes, “Newt liked the idea of one man shaping the destiny of entire civilizations.”
Indeed, Gingrich has spoken often about his galatic inspiration. For example, as he wrote in his 1996 memoir, To Renew America:
Isaac Asimov was shaping my view of the future in equally profound ways. …For a high school student who loved history, Asimov’s most exhilarating invention was the ‘psychohistorian’ Hari Seldon. The term does not refer to Freudian analysis but to a kind of probabilistic forecasting of the future of whole civilizations. The premise was that, while you cannot predict individual behavior, you can develop a pretty accurate sense of mass behavior.
Gingrich’s sense of grandiosity is by now famous, but his reverence for Seldon underscores the planet-sized ambitions Gingrich held, as helps elucidate his fascination with grand, futuristic projects. In a doodle of Gingrich’s recently published in Slate, the then-Speaker wrote that his two primary missions were to be an “Advocate of civilization” and “definer of civilization.” Another doodle “shows Gingrich (the “system designer”) at the hub of concentric circles featuring his staff, key supporters, the media, constituents, and the public.”