Newt Gingrich supports child labor as solution to poverty
There are, of course, any number of reasons not to like Newt Gingrich and to think he'd be a terrible choice for Republicans next year. We'll get into many of those reasons here in the coming days, and as long as he's a viable top-tier candidate, but for now let's just focus on one of them:
He supports child labor. Seriously:
Newt Gingrich tonight said at an address at Harvard that child work laws "entrap" poor children into poverty - and suggested that a better way to handle failing schools is to fire the janitors, hire the local students and let them get paid for upkeep.
The comment came in response to an undergrad's question about income equality during his talk at Harvard's Kennedy School.
"This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," Gingrich said. "Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.
"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."
Of course, there are also any number of reasons he's popular with conservatives, and here he hits several right-wing buttons at once: unions are bad, government regulation ruins the economy, public schools are failing, children have no rights, the poor are really only poor because they don't work hard enough, and income inequality is the fault of government and unions and the left generally.
He's wrong on all counts, but all across the country conservative knees are jerking. Steve M. explains it well:
If you're a fan of far-right demagoguery, there's so much to admire here. Notice how the simple act of paying people to clean and maintain scholls is now "bureaucratization." (Boo! Hiss!) Notice how the main enemy seems to be liberals -- and not just liberals, but eggheady, social-engineering-obsessed, bureaucratizing liberals (a class of people he demonizes at Harvard, no less) ... and yet Newt's attack also takes out evil broom-wielding union thugs.
But there's more. This is for the children. Making them clean the schools is good for them. This plays in the brains of wingnuts one of two ways: either (a) they imagine hoodlums and ruffians being kept off the streets by doing the sort of work they should just be consigned to at birth and forced to accept for life, or (b) they think this is how you save the underclass from a life of liberal dependency, by turning them into a sort of neckerchief-wearing Gingrich Youth, a cadre of Young Newtian Pioneers doing vigorous labor as a means of refuting the notion that the nation has gone flabby.
It would seem that Newt is just the new anti-Romney (following in the footsteps of Bachmann, Perry, and Cain), but the more I think about it the less sure I am. I thought he was done a long time ago, his campaign over save for his desire for more of the spotlight to enhance the Gingrich brand, but he may actually have some staying power -- if only because his rivals on the right, specifically Perry, are so weak. And it helps that, despite often veering from Republican orthodoxy (remember when he criticized Paul Ryan?), he can feed the conservative Republican penchant for cruelty and brutality with such enthusiastic extremism.
Newt's good at this stuff. He's earned his spot at the top.