Gingrich Steps Way Over The Line In Attacking America’s Poor

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.

Rick Ungar

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.