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Michael Genecin

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Clashes Between the Young and Old: Newt Gingrich and the Republican Primaries

Posted: 01/06/12 08:42 AM ET

Until a couple of days ago, Republican voters and the media seemed to be settling on Newt Gingrich as the front-runner for the GOP candidacy. Although Mitt Romney won (barely) the Iowa caucuses and Gingrich was far behind, Gingrich was ahead in the Republican national polls, and far ahead in the polls for the Florida and South Carolina caucuses, according to RealClearPolitics.com. Now, although slightly behind Romney in the Republican national polls, he has settled as a major contester to Romney's nomination, particularly in South Carolina and Florida.

I wrote a while ago about Rick Perry's emergence as a seemingly stable front-runner after the media and Republican voters had cycled through many others (always avoiding, of course, Mitt Romney). Well, the voters and the media soon dropped Perry and moved on, continuing the seemingly endless cycle (even Rick Santorum surged recently). Like an eight-year-old child deciding what to order for dessert at a fancy restaurant, the Republican voters appeared to be considering the more zany options before, we all agreed, they would settle for the safe choice and just order the damn vanilla ice cream (Mitt Romney). Well, who better to appeal to the eight-year-olds of America than a creepy old overgrown elf in the form of Newt Gingrich?

I am quite surprised that the Republican voters have shifted their attention to Newt. It seems the Republican base has lost all memory of the 1990s, when then-Speaker of the House Gingrich cost the Republican Party a lot of support by shutting down the government because of personal grievances with President Clinton. Later, Speaker Gingrich was reprimanded by the House for ethics violations (unrelated to the government shutdown) and ordered to pay a $300,000 penalty. He finally resigned because of deep discontent with his leadership among Republicans in Congress. Gingrich's penalty was the first time in the House's history that a Speaker was disciplined for ethical wrongdoing and the government shutdown was the longest in history (two historical facts that I am sure "Gingrich the historian" would love for everybody to forget). He also had an inflated and grandiose sense of self, writing in his personal notes that his mission was to be the "advocate of civilization," "definer of civilization," "teacher of the rules of civilization," "organizer of the pro-civilization activists," and "leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces," and that part of his 25-year plan to civilize the United States would be to have "Gingrich the historian applying the lessons of history to public life."

But I am here to discuss Gingrich's attacks on the students of America. On November 18, Gingrich held a conversation at Harvard's John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics in which he said, "Students are gonna actually have to study." Later in that same discussion, he answered a question about income inequality and lack of social mobility by proposing the relaxation of child labor laws to give kids "any job that teaches them to show up on Monday." He called child labor laws "truly stupid" and suggested that children should work as janitors in their own schools. I don't understand how someone who says that students have to spend more time studying can possibly suggest that students should perform difficult janitorial labor (in the hours when they should be studying) and clean up after the kids who can afford not to have to be part-time janitors. This favors the wealthy kids, who already have enough advantages, and marginalizes the poor kids because the poor kids can't even compete when they have so much less time to study.

Gingrich says that paying poor kids to clean the toilets of the more fortunate kids will foster the habit of showing up to work and making money, and that the poor kids will therefore be more able to compete and move up in the world. Gingrich blames economic inequality on the failure of schools and teachers (somebody is awfully bitter about not getting tenure as a professor), yet he suggests that we demean poor children by giving them menial jobs at young ages. What a great way to increase social mobility! Isn't it more likely that Gingrich's proposal would make a poor kid feel that all he could aspire to is a low-paying blue collar job, and that he has no hope of getting as good an education as others in his school, of going to a good college, or of finding a high-paying and intellectually challenging job? Wouldn't this just make the student feel as though he is stuck in the same life that his parents had? Instead of turning any kids into janitors, why shouldn't we try to improve the education in this country and have all kids be full-time students?

Naturally, Gingrich twisted reality by saying that it is the child labor laws that are "entrapping" children. He'd like us to believe that if the child labor laws were repealed, everything would be just hunky dory for the kids and they wouldn't ever get exploited (as they were, as any "historian" would know). We could just paint them orange, dye their hair green, and put them to work in a great big chocolate factory!

At a debate on December 10 (in which Michelle Bachmann introduced her "win, win, win" plan for Charlie Sheen's America... She wants the country to be tri-winning), Newt defended his ideas on child labor from Mitt Romney's criticism. More hypocrisy ensued when Gingrich said that he is "proud of trying to find things to give young people a reason to study science and math and technology" and then argued that students should work part-time in school (during school hours when they should be learning)! Gingrich suggested that we fire half of the New York janitors and replace them with one master janitor and local school children that would work part-time and get paid less. This is clearly a job-destroying policy in a country with an extremely high unemployment rate. Many have also noted that such a policy could result in the firing of a student's parent so that the student could work part time as a janitor and bring home less money than his parents did. That would be a great way for the family to make a living and move up in the world!

In terms of the widening gap between the rich and the poor, Newt's proposal to repeal the child labor laws would only make it worse. Since child labor would be cheaper, businesses that employ children would be able to keep more money for the top tier of the company, therefore increasing profits for the wealthy and decreasing profits for the wage earners.

One thing I know is that if I were a janitor, there would be no way I would ever cast my vote for Newt or anybody associated with him. I also know that anybody who cares about social mobility, equality of opportunity, and the education of American students could not possibly support Newt.

Newt's America is an America in which the children go into the coalmines at age nine and can only move up by working themselves up the chain of hard labor rather than becoming educated and getting a high-paying job based on their intellect. Newt likes to think of himself as a definer, advocate, and teacher of the rules of civilization, and yet he insists on undermining education by forcing poor kids to work at a young age. Is that civilized? It is a blatant attack on the students of America, and I am worried for a country that can even consider letting this megalomaniac hold a position of power.