Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Newt Gingrich Rant

*Sigh.* I thought I was over being offended by anything Newt Gingrich had to say. But I'm fuming after reading this op-ed piece: When Gingrich's Big Thoughts Backfire and related articles.

One of his "big thoughts":
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits for 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 is illegal ... 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."
I basically agree with what Gingrich's point here:
“This is how people rise in America — they learn to work.”
I feel a work ethic is extremely important, and truthfully, I wish I'd done a better job of instilling it in my kids. There does seem to be a sense of entitlement in our culture that runs the gamut from big bankers to "kids" who expect a great job after college just because they "deserve" it. I was once the only Master's level pizza delivery driver in town :-) -- you keep working hard and do what you've gotta do. But I digress.

I also don't think Gingrich's suggestion that students could be hired to work part-time in their schools is as "Dickensian" as some critics have suggested. Especially after he stepped back and softened it a bit.:
"What if you paid them part-time in the afternoon to sit in the clerical office, and greet people when they came in? What if you paid them to work as an assistant librarian? ... Let me get down to the janitor thing, and these letters are written that janitorial work is really hard and really dangerous and this and that. Fine. So what if they became assistant janitors and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom. And you pay them."
That doesn't sound so outrageous to me. What I find appalling is Gingrich's implicit assumption that low income children have never been exposed to adults who work. And hiring low income students as assistant janitors? I think this would have the effect -- however unintentional -- of conspicuously setting the "less fortunate" apart from their peers.

Now if they had a program in which *all* children, regardless of their parents' tax bracket, were invited to participate in age-appropriate school custodial responsibilities and other duties, I'd be willing to listen. Provided the kids were treated with respect, and someone nurtured their ability to work collaboratively to accomplish tasks, that could be fruitful. But don't single out the "needy" kids, the ones who may be the least in need of lessons in humility.

Yes, I know there are welfare moms out there who aren't contributing to society. I worked in human services, and I met a few of them. There are also loads of over-paid white collar execs who aren't contributing to society and are leeching off us on an exponentially larger scale that any welfare fraud perpetrator could ever dream of. I don't know how welfare recipients and struggling single moms became whipping boys in our culture. Maybe people feel more comfortable with the universe when they feel people caused their own suffering? It creates the illusion that things are somehow fundamentally "fair"? I don't know. Whatever the reason, this kind of thinking offends me to the very core of my being.

The statistics I've read indicate most welfare recipients use the aid temporarily, for a few years, until they're able to achieve self-sufficiency. Even if they don't, I'm happy to see my tax dollars used, when necessary, to provide for children. That aside, most low-income Americans, by far, are part of the "working poor." According to the Working Poor Families Project, the "average annual work effort for low-income working families is 2,552 hours, roughly one and one-quarter full-time jobs." For every so-called "welfare queen," thousands of folks are living paycheck to paycheck, busting their butts to pay the bills and hoping there'll be enough left to put food on the table. At least that's the way it works in my world. I haven't visited the parallel universe in which Gingrich lives.

But all that is kind of beside the point, isn't it? Because the real problem with the "Underprivileged Kids Will End Up as Gangstas or Bums If We Don't Put Them to Work" mentality is this: singling people out in this way, judging their worth and potential by their parents' place in the social pecking order, is antithetical to democracy. It's the mentality from which our forefathers, who immigrated from other parts of the globe in droves, were fleeing.

But since we're dishing out BIG THOUGHTS: I'll toss one on the table. How about a work program for our political leaders, including Gingrich, who boasted that he earns $60,000 per speech while campaigning in South Carolina, where the median household income is $42,600? And I'm not excluding democrats -- this isn't really a partisan thing. Each participant gets to spend a year living from paycheck to paycheck on a $12,500 - $43,000 income. Then maybe our elected leaders would be in a better position to govern the oft-mentioned "99%." Now that's something I think I could get behind.