Instead of doing the politically advisable thing and letting go of his anti-science lampooning of President Obama's support for algae biofuels, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich renewed his smug critique of algae this week after winning the primary in his home state of Georgia.
With his latest scoff-laden attacks at President Obama's mention of algae biofuel as a promising technological innovation, Newt Gingrich is in danger of coming off as ignorant of the Republican Party's history with algae biofuel and the legacy of one of the party's most revered conservatives.
Gingrich's criticism stems from an energy policy speech given by President Obama on February 23 when the president highlighted, among other things, promising developments in algae biofuels.
"If we can figure out how to make energy out of [algae], we'll be doing alright," Mr. Obama said. "We could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in the United States."
Gingrich piled on almost immediately, making an appearance on Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren the next day, saying that President Obama's energy policy speech"illustrates the passion of his commitment to a fantasy world."
But one only need to look back one month previous to find Mr. Gingrich making two claims in a single sentence that one might argue illustrate his commitment to a fantasy world.
"By the end of my second term," Gingrich said, "we will have the first permanent base on the moon."
As fanciful as it seems to have a permanent lunar base eight years from now, an even bigger fantasy is evidenced by the fact that Gingrich is setting the agenda for his second term in the White House, despite having virtually zero chance of ever winning a first.
The biggest misstep for Gingrich the historian in this whole attack on algae is that much of what we know today about algae-based biofuels was made possible by continued federal support from one of the Republican Party's most revered modern-day conservative heroes, Ronald Reagan.
Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest writes:
"Republicans should be proud that one of the principal energy initiatives during the years of the Reagan Revolution was the focus on the production of fleet-compatible fuels from newly-made algae. It was called the Aquatic Species Program and every good Republican ought to take a look at it, because it represents foundational knowledge that we continue to benefit from today."
It is nothing new these days for Republican leaders to pick on science. Unfortunately, it has become quite commonplace and often expected. But for a presidential candidate who worked for many years as a history professor to essentially mock a public policy supported by the irreproachable Republican leader Reagan, it is a big deal. Or at least it should be.
Just don't hold your breath waiting for the outrage.