Don't question Newt Gingrich's plan to put a permanent base on the moon this decade. "I am sick of being told we have to be timid," Gingrich said last week. He may have been trying to invoke John F. Kennedy's moonshot, or Ronald Reagan's Morning in America. But he sounded more like Barack Obama.
"We do big things," Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, arguing that America needed to show its greatness through huge public-private ventures. Obama said "we've got to up our game" when it came it to green energy, manufacturing and other industries. In his inaugural, Obama denigrated people "who question the scale of our ambition."
Obama regularly plays motivational speaker and employs jingoistic rhetoric to lay out grandiose visions based on an outsize view of Washington's role. And Newt Gingrich typically goes one step further. The similarities reflect poorly on both men.
Both men's National Greatness dreaming reflects hubris, egotism and bad economics. Gingrich's flights of fancy also expose his erratic nature and lack of conservative roots.
Conservatism, as explicated by Russell Kirk and Edmund Burke, finds roots in an appreciation that humans are flawed creations, making it impossible to plan the future as well as we'd like. Gingrich, on an intellectual level, knows this, yet he indulges his dreams of a new Tower of Babel.
Obama and Gingrich also invoke a cheap jingoism that reflects a poor grasp of economics. Obama said in last week's State of the Union address, "I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here."
The "commitment" in question was a raft of subsidies. These subsidies show why it might not be so bad to "cede" these green-energy jobs to other countries: "investments" that yield profit only with subsidies are parasitic. They suck more wealth out of an economy than they provide. Especially if you buy into Obama's nationalistic view of the world economy, wherein we're all shareholders in America Inc., you should have no problem letting the other guys monopolize money-losing industries.
While Obama won't let us lose the pointless solar race, Gingrich insists we win the lunar race.
"I'd like to have an American on the moon before the Chinese get there," Gingrich said in last Thursday's debate. But why? Because that's where the future is! It's the same contentless answer Obama gives on green energy.
In the past, Gingrich has touted a new space race as a way to create jobs. Of course federal subsidies for private space industry could create more space-industry jobs. President Obama, by heavy-handedly pushing General Motors ahead of its competitors, has shown that Washington can successfully help one company or industry -- at a net cost to the economy.
But you can't accuse Gingrich with cribbing from Obama's notebook. After all, Obama's National Greatness rallying cry for the last year has been "Win the Future," which was the title of Gingrich's 2005 book. And Gingrich has been laying out Big Ideas for decades. In his 1996 book "To Renew America," then-Speaker Gingrich asked, "Why not aspire to build a real Jurassic Park? ... Wouldn't that be one of the spectacular accomplishments of human history?"
This thirst for "spectacular accomplishments" is not something conservatives want in a president. Ronald Reagan didn't seek grand projects. He faced an enemy and defeated it. Gingrich, instead, sees a moon and shoots for it.
Gingrich's penchant for grand plans is the Fatal Conceit against which F.A. Hayek warned. It is a lesser version of the hubris behind the New Deal and Soviet five-year plans. Just because Gingrich wants to include private industry in his moonshots doesn't mean he's not a central planner. After all, Obama's grand plans -- green energy, saving the auto industry, Obamacare, the stimulus -- all involved industry rowing the boat while government steers.
Gingrich seems not to see any limits to his own intelligence, and so Americans should worry about what he would do with government power. Indeed, in foreign policy, Gingrich's erratic ambition and boundless self-regard goes from something silly to something scary.
Gingrich has called for U.S. attacks on North Korea, Lebanon and Cuba, and rattled his saber at China, Russia and Iran. As national security writer Spencer Ackerman puts it, "With such a wide range of targets, no wonder Gingrich has consistently said that the U.S. is in the middle of 'World War III.' "
You want this man with his finger on the button?
Obama's big dreams and central planning are standard liberalism. Gingrich's ambitions, though, are lunacy.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.