Newt Channels Inner Moonbeam

Gingrich's futuristic chatter guarantees a spacey nickname. Just ask Jerry Brown.

Gingrich 2012

Talk of outer space can be a tricky thing for a politician.

Newt Gingrich's efforts to round up the space vote this week included remarks to a crowd in Florida that he wants to establish a  permanent colony on the moon.  In fact, he noted, as reported in the Washington Post, he once pursued legislation in Congress that would've allowed such a colony to become a new state once it reached a certain size.

Forward thinking, or just out of this world?  Gingrich's remarks were well-received by his audience, many of whom work at nearby Cape Canaveral.

But it's given Gingrich's opponents a new chance to question whether he's, well, grounded. "Newt Skywalker" and similar nicknames are once again making the rounds, contributing to images of a dreamer, too futuristic and not practical.

That sounds awfully familiar here in California.

Newt Gingrich and Jerry Brown are as un-alike politically as San Francisco and Newport Beach. But Brown's new age talk during his first term as governor more than 30 years ago earned him the nickname of Governor Moonbeam.  And it's stuck ever since.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko coined the term, drawing on Brown's interest in space and his interest in having California develop and launch its own space satellite.  Royko used the term as shorthand for musings on the oddball ways of California.

Royko later recanted. asking readers to retire the "Moonbeam" title.

That didn't happen.  When Jerry Brown decided to run for governor again in 2010, reporters, myself included, asked him whether he resented the "Moonbeam" image. Brown's response was that he saw the name as reflecting his nonconventional thinking.

But Brown also ran on a theme of an older, wiser, experienced statesman.  The space stuff was ancient history, and never became an issue in the campaign.

Gingrich's talk of moon colonization may not be a major issue in this primary season, but in terms of political judgement, it represents zero gravity.

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