2012 A Space Fallacy: Newt Gingrich v. America

As I write this article on the night of the Oscars, it strikes me that if the GOP race were framed in terms of a movie, Gingrich would be cast as the villain. If not for his philandering love life, than most definitely for his sci-fi space colony plans.

In the media, reactions to Newt Gingrich’s hopes to build a space colony by 2020 have been mainly negative. From Romney’s response that “I’m not looking for a colony on the moon…I think the cost of that would be hundreds of billions, if not trillions” to Ron Paul’s cutting remark of “I don’t think we should go to the moon…I think maybe we should send some politicians up there,” politicians and pundits alike have attacked Gingrich’s plan on the basis of impracticality.

However, I must admit that what drew my attention to this subject was an op-ed that ran in the Stanford Daily entitled “I Do Choose to Run: I find your lack of faith disturbing.” In it, the author Miles Unterreiner says that “I look forward to the day when America regains its ‘civil courage’ — the audacity to reach literally for the stars and to individually sacrifice for the achievement of something we do together.”

I respectfully disagree.

America’s “civil courage” does not come from individual sacrifice to a vague national goal. America’s civil courage comes from the knowledge that our government was instituted to protect our civil liberties and rights, and that individual men and women need not fear following their dreams because the government will not be there to legislate what they can and cannot do. Americans do not need to individually sacrifice for a vague governmental plan. Americans have sacrificed in countless wars not because the government asked them to, but because they felt it was both in their interest and the interest of the country to support the war effort.

Thus, the problem with Gingrich’s plan is not that he wants to support space travel, rather it is the fact that he, and others who support his general idea, would ask the common citizen to sacrifice to the god of national identity.

Another concerning part of Gingrich’s plan is not the impractical nature of it, since space travel is certainly possible. It is the idea that space travel is a necessary goal for America, the ideal that the government and citizens should work and sacrifice for together in order to achieve it.

All told, Newt Gingrich wants to use taxpayer dollars in order to support a program that has no feasible basis for the government to be involved in it. I think that Gingrich was correct in wanting private business to take a role in promoting space travel and colonization; where I disagree with him is where he thinks that the government should provide a partnership role in those endeavors.

Private companies like the Tier One Project have already started making progress over the past few years into the realm of space exploration and travel, and have done it completely of their own accord, no government assistance required. When our country is in the fiscal state it currently is, how can we afford to spend taxpayer money on one of the most expensive government projects in history? How much is the cost of national solidarity?

But some may argue that these are merely practical concerns. The real genius behind Gingrich’s plan, they would argue, is the emphasis on the national good. Gingrich himself declared that “You don’t inspire the American nation with trivial, bureaucratically rational objectives.” This is true. But great presidents also don’t ask their citizens to sacrifice to an objective without a clear sense of why it would benefit the people involved. Asking the American people to support a grandiose plan because it would create a sense of national purpose and adventure is simply not the proper role of government or its leaders.

America was founded upon some arguably lofty precepts, such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but none of those include the responsibility to provide for abstract goals proposed by government leaders simply because they have the ability to propose them.

Thus, when I look at Gingrich’s space plan, I do not see the practicalities or impracticalities of his argument. What I see is a reminder of Kennedy’s now famous exhortation to “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” As poetic as these words appear on the page, they mask the true identity of the American republic as serving the individual and their rights above all else.

If we want to know what is truly wrong with Newt Gingrich’s space colony plan, we need not look any further than one of the most famous speeches in American history: the Gettysburg Address. For who remembers that Lincoln said that government was of the people, by the people, for an abstract ideal? I certainly do not.

Elle Stuart ’14 is Deputy Opinion Editor of the Stanford Review. She can be reached at emstuart@stanford.edu

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