WEST DES MOINES, IOWA — In our interview, I asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich about concerns I’ve heard about him from Republicans who otherwise like and want to support him.
One, I said, is his propensity to make outrageous remarks, the most recent one being his charhe that child labor laws are stupid.
“Look,” Gingrich said, “at a time when you have up to 43% black teenage unemployment, you have entire communities that are devastated, you have neighborhoods where nobody has worked and nobody has any habit of work, I’d be delighted to — that’s why I want to challenge Obama to 7 three hour debates — I’d be delighted to have a conversation about our current approach to children.
“Young children who are poor ought to learn how to go to work,” he continued. “What I’ve said is, for example, it would be great if inner city schools and poor neighborhood schools actually hired the children to do things. Some of the things they could do is work in the library, work in the front office. Some of them frankly, could be janitorial.
Gingrich notes that “the first counter-attack is ‘Do you realize how hard janitorial work is and do you realize how dangerous it is?’ So I come back and say, OK, what if they cleaned out the bathrooms and what if they mopped the floors? What if in the summer they repainted the school? What if in that process they were actually learning to work, learning to earn money, they had money on their own, they didn’t have to become a pimp or a prostitute or a drug dealer, they had money on their own? They had the dignity of work, and learned how to be around adults who actually wanted to mentor them and help them?
“Now that’s not a casual comment,” Gingrich said. “It actually grows out of a lot of thinking over many years of trying to figure out who do we break out people trapped in poverty who have no habits of work.”
I said to him, “Democrats could very easily take that comment and say ‘Newt Gingrich wants inner city kids to become janitors at age 10.’”
“Right,” Gingrich said, “and the correct answer is that’s a lie. Newt Gingrich wants inner city kids to learn how to have a job at which they earn some money as the first step in the rung in the ladder up.”
Gingrich continued, “this all started when people on the Left laughed about and derided what they call hamburger flipping jobs. I did an entire thing in one of my courses on the number of people whose first job was at McDonald’s who are now very successful multi-millionaires. And my point is, any work that gets you in the habit of working beats no work.”
Later I asked Gingrich, “You were talking about the African-American community. Do you think that President Obama has not done enough for the African-American community?”
“Well, no,” Gingrich said. “It has been a disaster. But that is a side effect of his economic policies. When you have a destructive economic policy the poorest community gets hit hardest and so they have actually been hurt most by this and it is truly tragic. And I am sure for him it has to almost involve cognitive dissonance because how can he look in – how can he say, ‘This is the community I have done so little for?’ “I think as Americans, forget the president for a moment, Americans if you truly believe you are endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness, one of my major goals, is to apply that to the poorest neighborhoods in America in very very different ways and try to break out of what we have trapped people into for the last forty years.”