Newt Gingrich has always been, as the newspaper guys used to say, "good copy," not least because, well, he was named "Newt Gingrich": were Booth Tarkington alive today, you'd find a list of names like "Newt Gingrich" sitting in a file on his computer. (Also, if he were writing Seventeen today, he'd have to call it Eleven, but that's another matter.) David Letterman once listed ten ways to mispronounce the name, the best of which was Number Three: "Newtros Newtros-Gingy." But whatever you thought of ol' Grinch Neutron political revolutionary or ethically-challenged weasel he was always the Idea Guy, the man you went to if you wanted a sound bite that didn't sound like it came from the five hundred-odd political hacks at the Capitol. In the October 2006 Discover, former Democratic media consultant Francis Wilkinson sits down with Gingrich, and they hash over scientific matters. Some of them I applaud, some of them I stare at in disbelief, and a few of them I'm going to transcribe.

This strikes me as outlandish but possibly workable anyway:

I've advocated ... paying kids in 7th through 12th grade the equivalent of what they would make working at McDonald's if they take math and science and get a B or better. Overnight you would change the culture of poor neighborhoods in America.

Not that Gingrich is that crazy about contemporary schools:

[T]here's no reason to believe that an 1820 school model has any relevance to the 21st century. It's terrific only if you think kids today are going to work in a textile mill.

Or, for that matter, the current Washington establishment:

We are in an enormous mismatch between our governing elite and reality on a bipartisan basis. I'm certain not more than 1 percent of this city has a clue.

On the possibility of climate change (and this I endorse wholeheartedly):

Unlike right-wingers who would say, "Since we don't know 100 percent for sure, we can keep carbon loading," I'd say that there is enough evidence to try to move toward renewables, to try to move toward conservation, to try to move toward a hydrogen economy. All those are reasonable steps. But none leads me to panic. We are dramatically cooler than we have been for large parts of Earth's history. We could do everything mandated by Kyoto times 10, and if the sun changes its behavior, it'll just swamp us. There's a certain human egocentrism that undervalues how big the system is.

And although Gingrich says he's not made up his mind about a possible Presidential bid, he did offer this suggestion for putting more emphasis on science:

What makes science fun is this adventure of discovery, which is both aesthetically pleasing and is productive in a practical way. We need to get back to being that kind of system. And that requires real leadership at the top because the underlying biases of this culture are commercial rather than scientific. It should be as possible, or more possible, to succeed in America as a scientist or engineer as it is to succeed as a rock star, athlete, or movie star. Unless you set that goal and it's got to be a culturally defined goal, the rewards system has to be built in we will not sustain our leadership role in the world.

Gingrich's track record as a visionary, it must be noted, is a lot better than his track record as a force for change. Of the ten items promised in the 1994 Contract with America, Gingrich, as Speaker, managed to get nine through the House, though only three were ultimately signed into law. There's no particular reason to think he'd do much better in whatever role he winds up playing in the next few years. Still, there aren't a lot of Idea Guys left, on either side of the political aisle and most of them aren't being talked up as Presidential material in 2008, either.

The Vent

  9 September 2006

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 Copyright © 2006 by Charles G. Hill