Monday, January 30, 2012

Visionary grandiosity

I was willing to let it pass when Newt Gingrich compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, Charles de Gaulle, Napoleon, and Mahatma Ghandi, but the Wright Brothers is just a bit too much.

Newt's formula for glib historical analogy seems to run like this: (a) extract a cartoonish caricature of the essential quality of a great figure from history (b) act in a way that vaguely resembles in the most superficial manner this cartoonish caricature (c) conclude that Newt Gingrich is therefore just like this great figure from history in essence and substance.

It is, as I have noted, the apparent key to the strange and still repeated belief that he is a Deep Thinker and a Great Debater—a "real intellectual," as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commision asserted the other day, unlike that phoney "smartypants" Obama. This is a conclusion that can only be reached by someone who has never actually encountered a real intellectual or a real debater in his entire sheltered life, and who mistakes pomposity and egotism for intellectuality and simple bluster, bombast, and petulance for brilliant or nimble debating skills.

But Gingrich is the master of form over substance, perfectly attuned to all of the morally hollow and lazy habits of our culture that he and fellow "cultural" conservatives pretend to deplore, above all the standardless credulity that mistakes celebrity for accomplishment. It is perfect irony, which goes right by Gingrich and his starry-eyed believers, that he thinks that calling himself "visionary" and "grandiose" is good.

But to return to the Wright Brothers, whom Gingrich evoked in connection with his grandiose and visionary proposal to establish a permanent "moon colony" by the end of his second term. You can call the Wright Brothers a lot of things, but visionary was not one of them. They were intensely practical men, who had a remarkable command of basic engineering concepts, and who never uttered a single word about man's "destiny" or reaching for new frontiers or all the other sci-fi hogwash that Gingrich thinks makes him sound brilliant. The Wrights wanted to be the first to fly, and no sooner had they done so than they were drafting a proposal to sell their invention, lock, stock, and barrel, for $100,000 cash to the United States (or any other "great government," in their words) that was willing to pony up.

Needless to say, with the Wright Brothers, the substance came first. Of all the ways to spend money on space exploration, having a bunch of bozos boring themselves out of their gourds living on the moon is just about the most absurd. NASA by the end of the Apollo program was desperately trying to think of more things for astronauts to do on the moon to keep busy  for a few days there and it was already getting pathetic then. (More moon rocks, anyone?) The moon is a desert. The moon has no resources. The moon has no air.

This a monumentally dumb idea, masquerading as a smart idea.

Now, who does that remind us of???