SOCIAL ENGINEERING…. For at least a few decades, conservatives had a name for the progressive desire to use the power of the state to shape and improve people’s daily lives: social engineering. It wasn’t a compliment.

Social engineering is predicated on the idea that the power of the state can alter how people can and will behave. It’s generally considered anathema for anyone who values “limited” government. What’s more, given President Obama’s ambitious domestic policy agenda, the phrase seems to be popular with the right again. Just last night, Bill O’Reilly complained about “all this social engineering Barack Obama is promoting.” Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman said the White House’s “spending on social engineering” is upsetting the political establishment.

I thought about all of these complaints when I saw this report about a speech Newt Gingrich gave in Michigan earlier this week.

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich arrived to tour the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital at 3 p.m. today — a facility he heard about in a speech two years ago and wanted to visit after meeting with state lawmakers about the state of healthcare earlier this morning in Lansing. […]

The Republican told state senators Wednesday he supports paying poor children to read and the state should consider paying girls to not get pregnant. And for the teenage girls who are pregnant, they should be paid to take prenatal vitamins and stay healthy so the government avoids expensive costs when babies end up in neonatal intensive care units.

Putting aside the merit of Gingrich’s ideas, I find his recommendations rather ironic. On the one hand, Republicans believe Obama is spending too much on an agenda that promotes social engineering. On the other hand, Gingrich, who is advising congressional Republicans, believes we should use tax dollars to influence children’s reading habits and teenagers’ sexual habits.

Isn’t this textbook social engineering?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.