Ten Miles Square


December 01, 2011 11:00 AM Gingrich Steps Way Over The Line In Attacking America’s Poor

By Rick Ungar

Last week, Newt Gingrich laid out his plan to make a dent in the poverty that infects America’s poorest communities by suggesting that schools fire their full-time janitorial staff. His big idea was that these working Americans could be replaced by a work force comprised of young kids working part-time, each freed to work at a young age by getting rid of the child labor laws designed to keep our children in school rather than engaging in heavy labor.

In his remarks, Newt said the labor laws protecting our kids were “stupid.”

Yesterday, speaking to some 200 employees of the Nationwide Insurance Company in Iowa, Gingrich shared a few more of his thoughts on the nation’s poor:

Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of “I do this and you give me cash,” unless it’s illegal.

Could it possibly be that the self-professed, master of the big idea managed to miss the fact that there are more than 10 million low-income (earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level) working families in this country - representing 45 million Americans, 22 million of which are children?

These are the very people who live in the poor neighborhoods that Gingrich is talking about -the communities where Newt seems to believe that people don’t understand working for a dollar unless it involves doing something illegal.

I’ve been closely following politics for much of my life -and, in my case, that’s a pretty long time - and I am comfortable in saying that Newt’s speech may well be the most offensive political speech I have ever heard spoken by an American politician.

Poor children don’t understand the concept of providing services in exchange for cash unless that service or sale is illegal? Nobody in our poorest communities works leaving the kids without sufficient role models capable of teaching the value of a good day’s work?

These are the utterings one might expect from an imbecile who grew up in a community so shielded from the poor that such a person simply could not know any better.

But the man who delivered these words is, allegedly, a man who is very much not an imbecile. Rather, we are frequently told that -while Newt Gingrich comes with so much baggage that his baggage has baggage - he is among the smartest of the field of candidates who are seeking the GOP’s nomination to run for the highest office in the land.

Indeed, this is a man who has served in a government role so high in rank that he was once right behind the Vice-President of the United States in the line of succession to the presidency.

The day before, Gingrich told us that he never had to work as a lobbyist because the $60,000 he collects each time he gives a speech made him a wealthy man. Considering that Gingrich’s speaking fee -received for what one imagines would be about a half hour of speaking time plus travel to the event and an overnight stay - is considerably more than what the average American earns in a year, might it be fair to ask if this is a man sufficiently in touch with the citizens he wishes to lead?

Wealth, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean that its possessor has lost touch with the common woman or man in America. However, when you couple Newt’s wealth with his offensive statements, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion but that Gingrich is either way out of touch with those whom he seeks to lead or is such an awful a human being that he would demagogue the misfortune and difficulty that so many of his fellow countrymen and women must endure in their lives in the quest for a few votes.

I can live with a conservative president if this is what the majority of Americans want. In fact, I am always prepared to live with almost any political ideology represented by anyone whom the public choses to be their leader as this is how our system works. What I cannot abide is the idea that this nation would even consider electing a leader who has shown himself or herself to be so flawed and failed a human being.

Sadly, it’s not just Newt Gingrich who fails this most basic test of humanity.

Anyone who stands on a stage and says nothing when a crowd roots for letting a man die because he has no health insurance has no business leading this, or any other, nation. Anyone who would stand on the debate stage and say nothing as the audience booed a member of our armed forces stationed in a war zone has no business serving as that soldier’s Commander in Chief.

Any candidate for office who has yet to rise up and slap Newt down for the despicable statement made today has no business leading a nation where so many are among the poor.

As we know all too well, each and every candidate participating in the above-mentioned GOP debates said nary a word as these offenses took place.

If the majority of Americans want a Republican president in 2012, then I suppose this is what they should have. However, if the Republicans cannot manage to field so much as one candidate that can meet the most basic qualification of plain, old human decency, the Republican Party - a party that does still count among its members some fine and well-meaning people- should pull out of the contest and spend a little time figuring out why decent people don’t care to play for their side.

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Rick Ungar is an attorney in Southern California and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. He is a contributing writer at Forbes. Readers can reach him at rickungar [at] gmail [dot] com.


  • matt w on December 02, 2011 8:59 AM:

    Gingrich has been banging the "culture of poverty" drum for a couple of decades. He thinks that the problem with poor people is that they're shiftless and lazy, and his solution for it is Scrooge's "Are there no prisons?... And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?" (Not to mention orphanages, which you may remember as his proposed replacement for AFDC.)

    But it's no coincidence that Newt "grew up in a community so shielded from the poor that such a person simply could not know any better." He was very concerned that his community should remain so shielded from the poor that he wouldn't have to know any better. Consider this Times article from August 1994, just before Americans inexplicably made this horrible man Speaker of the House:

    Blacks make up a slim fraction of Cobb's population, and those who have been attracted to the area, Mr. Gingrich said, "don't want to be black in the unity convention, N.A.A.C.P. sense."

    "They want to be Americans, integrated, assimilated, living in neighborhoods that are safe," he said.

    But when asked what Cobb should do to foster that integration and assimilation, particularly for the black poor, Mr. Gingrich raises the specter of crime and collapsing schools brought on by people "with no middle class values." Instead of opening up places like Cobb to the black poor, "what makes sense is to replace the culture of poverty," he said.

    These days Newt seems to be a little more careful about bringing his racism out in the open, but make no mistake about it; when he says "the culture of poverty," he means "keep black people out of my neighborhood, and let them fend for themselves. (Later in that article, Atlanta's fair housing monitor says "If it was still legal to pass a referendum against black folks, Cobb County might do it.")

  • blondie on December 02, 2011 11:44 AM:

    First - great to read you, Rick! I was following you on Forbes, and was thrilled when you transferred your considerable abilities to WM.

    As for Newt ... (Every time I speak, hear or write his name, Monty Python springs to mind unbidden!)

    Yes, his statements are so far beyond offensive as to leave me wondering how any Republican can support him. On the practical side of these offensive comments, let's observe that he wants to take members of the "working poor" - don't you think janitors fit that definition, union or not? - and turn them into the unemployed, in order to give underage children their jobs!

    Mmmm, what a "creative" solution!

    Excuse me, I have to go retch now.

  • Texas Aggie on December 02, 2011 12:12 PM:

    I suppose it is a pretty safe bet that Newtron has never even driven through one of the poor neighborhoods he seems to think he knows so much about. Rather than give him numbers about how many poor people are working, it would be a better idea to grab him by the collar and shove him into one of those neighborhoods and not let him come out until he was actually earning his own living.

    Newt Gingrich Is ĎA Stupid Manís Idea Of What A Smart Person Sounds Likeí - Paul Krugman

  • Rick Ungar on December 02, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Blondie - thanks and nice to 'see' you here! Just FYI, still writing at Forbes but also lucky enough to be allowed to also write here at Washington Monthly.

  • Alec on December 02, 2011 1:57 PM:

    I work at a school that is 90% poverty. The kids I teach work harder in a day than Newtie probably works all year. As far as them only doing illegal things, I trust these kids who have nothing to babysit my kids in my own home. I've got kids that live two or even three families in a two bedroom apartment because they are looking for work, but they will still find a way to get their teacher a birthday present or Christmas gift.

    These kids are not poor because they are sinners. They are poor because they are sinned against.Newt is disgusting.

  • reubenr on December 07, 2011 12:00 PM:

    One can not help but think that the traditional conservative view of small government and a balanced budget is so out of date and has so lost it's way, along with capitalism in general, that the only kind of people it can produce to pitch its view are people like Newt, who are born again liars. When you look at the cast of characters, you really have to shake your head, but if you add up the total #'s in the polls you never get 100%, so maybe there are a few Republicans out there that are holding out for something better. What or who that will be may be a Democrat, but the scary thing though is that the polls have Romney and Obama running neck and neck at 47%. So, maybe the Independents are holding out and it could wind up being a run away for some one. If I was an Independent, and I am, I might fall in to that remaining 6% in the moment because I am waiting for Mr. Obama to say what he is going to do during his next 4 years and what he needs to do that. I've have pretty much given up on the remaining time in this administration, since nothing is going to change for the better, I don't fault him very much at all for not being able to overcome the lack of votes in Congress. I am disappointed that when he had them, he was kind of slow to move and pushed on the need for bipartisanship, when, in truth, he didn't have the votes from his own party on health care and was certainly not going to get a single vote from the Republican side of the aisle. As well, he could have stood his ground on the Bush Tax Cuts and let the Republicans axe the unemployment benefits, for example. This would have appropriately outraged the voting public against the Republicans, rather than having the outrage directed at him and the rest of the people looking at him as a wimp. Now we see that the Republicans are kind of split on the unemployment stuff, so I think he kind of made the wrong call but I'm going to cut him a break on that one. I realize I am taking forever to get to the point, but I don't mind, I have all day, its raining out, but since it's almost time for lunch and my eyes are starting to blur, I would have to say that even if he never comes up with an appropriate idea for his next term, I would probably still vote for Mr. Obama, since the alternative candidates are so scary and, if elected, would set us so far back in terms of being a society that everything accomplished in the last 100 years would have been for naught.