I suppose I should be glad that civil space policy has actually become an issue in the presidential campaign. It’s not usually a topic of interest to most people, nor one on which most people’s vote is likely to hinge, so it’s unusual for it to become newsworthy. Unfortunately, though, there hasn’t been a serious discussion about it. Rather, it has merely served as a crude cudgel that Mitt Romney has taken up to knock down his surging rival, Newt Gingrich.
It started in the debate on December 10th in Des Moines, Iowa. When asked for issues on which he disagreed with the former House speaker, Governor Romney led with a space-related topic: “We could start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the Moon,” he said. “I’m not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that.” His intent was to ridicule the speaker’s ideas, and he at least partially succeeded, judging by the laughter among some in the audience.
He followed up with another: “He even talked about a series of mirrors that we could put in space that would light our highways at night. I’ve got some better ideas for our resources.”
As I noted at National Review Online the following Monday, these are not current Gingrich policy positions, or campaign talking points, but rather a couple ideas from a book he wrote over a quarter of a century ago that David Brooks had cited in a column at the New York Times the day before the debate. But either Romney himself or his campaign staff apparently decided that it would be politically advantageous to mock Newt’s vision, making his ideas sound too “far out” for America.
In the days after, it became clear that it wasn’t just an off-hand comment, but a calculated ongoing strategy to marginalize Gingrich by reinforcing the narrative that Gingrich is mercurial, with half-baked ideas. Romney started to use the word “zany” to describe the former speaker’s positions. This past Sunday, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, he doubled down when asked to be more specific on what was “zany” about Gingrich’s ideas:
This was being battled on Capitol Hill and the speaker sat down with Nancy Pelosi and spoke in favor of legislation dealing with climate change. He has been unreliable in those settings and zany, I wouldn’t think you’d call mirrors in space to light highways at night particularly practical or a lunar colony a practical idea. Not at a stage like this.