Gingrich's Profound Insight On Poverty

One thing every politician is supposed to display is empathy, the ability to put oneself in the place of others and see things from their perspective. Empathy is a habit of mind, but it's also a product of experience. It's hard to see things from another's perspective if you know absolutely nothing about their lives. But even if you have no direct experience, if you have the proper habit of mind you can at least take whatever information you've gleaned and make some attempt to understand people.

Keeping that in mind, I give you Newt Gingrich, talking about why he thinks child labor laws ought to be done away with so we can start putting kids to work as janitors and such:

"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."

Read that again. Newt believes that if you live in a poor neighborhood, there is no one you know who works. He actually seems to think that in poor neighborhoods, everyone is just sitting around, except for some drug dealers. What can you possibly say to something like that?

Now, it may be that Newt isn't such an idiot that he actually believes that. Maybe he's just pandering to the prejudices of his audience. As Benjy Sarlin pointed out yesterday, Newt's campaign is being built on old people, and being that he's running in the Republican primary, that means old white people. Telling old white people that kids today, particularly black* kids today, are a bunch of lazy nogoodniks who don't know the value of a day's work is going to get you a lot of nodding heads.

But this is an excellent case study in how Newt operates. He comes up with a crazy idea -- why not make poor kids clean the toilets in between classes at school? -- then when challenged, he comes up with a rationale for the crazy idea built on an even more insane and factually wrong socio-cultural analysis. The fact that the more he talks the crazier it gets only matters if he isn't telling you what you want to hear.

*Now, for the racial element. Newt is not explicitly saying black people are lazy. But the fact is that in America, when you say "poor," people hear "black." Although most poor Americans are white and most recipients of anti-poverty assistance like food stamps and welfare are also white, most white Americans think that most poor Americans and welfare recipients are black. Furthermore, when the media discuss poverty, they disproportionately show black people to illustrate their stories. All these facts have been extensively documented with public opinion surveys and media analyses, perhaps most notably in Martin Gilens' excellent book Why Americans Hate Welfare (reviewed in the Prospect here). The idea of the shiftless undeserving poor lacking only in the proper values and ambition is inextricably tied to race. I'm guessing that whether Gingrich is familiar with this research or not, he's perfectly happy to evoke those racial stereotypes in his intended audience of grumpy old white people.


Listen up, and listen good, Paul: you are succumbing to the lazy white liberal stereotype, and doing a dogwhistle of your own: MEAN OLD WHITE FOLK are the Republican base. I have seen so many mean young white folk that I would say that while the true base isn't old, it is white, usually undereducated (high school at best), of any age distribution, marginally middle-class, and it feels threatened economically or emotionally in some way, which leads to lashing out to a perceived threatening group, THE OTHER. These people probably have worked really hard, and see that their work hasn't made them more comfortable or only marginally more comfortable. They tend to be blue collar. They are profoundly unhappy, and the Republicans have given them targets for their malaise with great glee and joy, turning them into racists and bigots without much work because they are afraid they are going to lose their lifestyle, such as it is, to those OTHERS who are not quite human (lazy, brown, shiftless, poor, whatever).

The increasing numbers of militia type groups, fascist followers and so forth are not due to increasing numbers of MEAN OLD WHITE FOLK. They are due to increasing numbers of white people feeling increasingly that they are losing their power, such as it is. It never was all that great. Their perception of the world is that it is a pie with increasingly smaller slices going to them (and they are correct, of course, only wrong about why).

And liberals have done a really awful job of winning these increasing disenfranchised people over, and of showing them that they have a common foe: Republicans and the plutocrats who would suck them dry. Liberals have to quite the ageism, and start educating the masses whose allegiance they have been losing all along.

Mr. Waldman,
Mr. Gingrich may not be correct about some things, but in this case he is correct and does know what he is talking about. My wife has been a teacher and a guidance counselor in a couple shools comprised of very poor populations. She has witnessed this first hand and is very much in agreement with Mr. Gingrich on the observation of the problem. She may not agree with the proposed solution, but she states that a very significant percentage of the very poor do not know how to work or understand the benefits of working, etc... Obviously, not every single poor person is not working or trying to work, and I don't think he was meaning 100% of poor people. But there is a significant amount of children who have these issues due to the parents they have and their surroundings. If you grow up with free school breakfasts and lunches (and free school supplies) and your parent(s) collect welfare checks and this is the only thing you know; it greatly increases your likelihood of continuing down the same path at adulthood. I think this is really the point he is trying to make, and to introduce some way to break this cycle and give some of these children a fighting chance. My wife tells me she experiences this with the children and it is very difficult to break through to them, ad they do not see any reason to work as a productive member of society as it is easier to sell drugs or collect money from the government (or both).

My wife tells me of parents (able bodied parents by the way) who come in at the beginning of the year and demand she give them bookbags and school supplies for their children (in addition to the free breakfasts and lunches). They come back at Christmas and demand presents for the children. Once again, not everyone does this, and some definitely have circumstances where help is truly needed, but there is a growing number of people who know how to milk the system and it becomes the norm for them, and if this is what the child sees growing up, he/she will most likely do the same. A classic example was a set of parents who visited my wife demanding that the school pay the $5.00 fee for a field trip as they could not afford it. The couple walked in, each with a large cup of Starbucks coffee in hand and both smelled of cigarette smoke, but they can't afford the $5.00 fee? Really????? My wife was absolutely blown away, but she had to handle it in a civil manner.

I could go on and on with numerous examples, and no, not 100% of poor people are like this, but there is a tremendous problem as the number of people expecting everyone else to do for them grows, and the children of these adults have a difficult time understanding education, work ethics, etc... As I stated, my wife sees it every day and she totally agrees with Mr. Gingrich as she spends a significant portion of her day dealing with many of these people.

I do not understand your reference to race on this subject. I don't think Mr. Gingrich was directy his comments at any particular race. However, since you mention it, my wife tells me that the problems she sees are mostly with white and black people and rarely does she have issues with Hispanic people. In cases where she knew of situations where Hispanic people really needed help and she offered to give them assistance, the Hispanic people often would not accept it. This probably relates back to the work ethic that Mr. Gingrich is talking about. The problem lies in the people (race does not matter) who expect and demand (yes, I repeat demand) the assistance and really do not try to better themselves as it is too easy to take from the government.

I appluad Mr. Gingrich for bringing this subject up so that people can debate and hopefully find ways for these children to learn that there are other ways to live and prosper and hopefully many can break the cycle and perform in life differently from the ways they see their parents perform.

Funny, I've taught among the urban poor of Los Angeles and have never seen any of these circumstances this guy describes his wife as having experienced. And I puzzle over his claim that these urban poor "demand" the things he says his wife has seen them demand-- I've not seen that either. Finally, I'm not sure what he means by writing of people who grow up watching their parents receive welfare-- welfare payments are limited to five years within a lifetime. By definition, that can take up only about thirty percent of any person's first eighteen years of life. Finally, before this writer points his finger of judgment at these people his wife supposedly knows, complaining of all they receive for free, he ought to consider that he himself, his wife, and all his children, if he has any, received free educations from the state. Plus, his wife makes her living working in that system. It sounds like the system of government beneficence has played a big role in his own and his family's life.

Dmerrin10000 brings up a coupe interesting points. I believe that it is true that welfare is supposed to be capped at 5 years, so I am not sure how many of these people do it. I know some do it using disability (many deserving but unfortunately some fraudulently). Some receive benefits based upon the number of children they have - apparently this is not capped at five years because I know of those who receive the benefits for many years - I do not know exactly how it works nor do I know how they get around any time restrictions if there are any.

This person mentions I am pointing my finger at these people. Actually, I am not - I am stating that we need to find a way(s) to fix the problem. I repeated in my comments that not all poor people do this, but there is a real problem with those who do take advantage of the system. It is a problem for the tax payers and a larger problem for the children who grow up like this. I can't speak for the Los Angeles area as I have never lived or worked there, but I can tell you for a fact (not only from the experiences my wife has in the school systems (working in 3 different systems in 2 different states)) that in the southeastern United States it is a real problem as I grew up here and saw it first hand. Maybe things are somewhat better now due to welfare reforms - I am not sure - but it is still a real problem. I believe Newt Gingrich is from Georgia, so maybe this is why he thinks so, as I know it is a problem in neighboring states.

I do find it intersting that Dmerrin10000 stated that he/she did not see these problems in Los Angeles and another person mentioned they did not see them in NYC. I have no reason to doubt this, so I wonder if the reason we have the issue with it in the south may be due to the lower cost of living here and significantly lower cost of housing. You truly can survive on welfare, WIC, EBT cards, etc... that are available here without having to keep a full time job. This is probably not the case with the cost of rent in NYC and LA. In those areas where the cost of living is significantly higher, I can see how there could easily be a large population of people who are fully employed, yet have a very difficult time making ends meet. Our cost of living is less here and the cost of housing significantly less, so this could possibly only/mainly be a problem in the south or rural areas where the cost of living is not so high.

In response to Dmerrin10000's comments that my wife and I "claim" these things happen and that SOME (once again, not all) demand things, I don't know how to prove to you that they do on this blog, but I know for a fact as I have witnessed it many times by many people. I even just discussed these things with my wife today, and she chuckled as she had a real issue with a parent/student yesterday that only confirms my that it is happening. Maybe it is a phenomenom that is regional or is isolated to areas where the cost of living is less, but I assure you it is happening in the southeast. I am not against government assistance for those who truly need it nor am I against public education, but I am against the fraud that is happening. More importantly, I hope we can find a way(s) to help these children out who unfortunately are being raised by parents and living with people who have no problem using fraudulent ways to receive benefits and have a real sense of entitlement.

I don’t recall seeing Mr. Gingrich around where I live but that’s exactly the way it is here. No one works a real job. Some do pickup work; some run drugs; some collect retirement or disability or whatever, and some steal. But no one works a real job. At the local store the main items sold are alcohol, tobacco, and drug paraphernalia. The food stamp machine works but the cash and debit/credit card machines do not; why should they, no one has any money, except cash and not much of that. We live here because it’s cheap, and because if we can’t pay no one does anything about it, they can’t get anyone else to live here after all.

I doubt many of us chose to be poor. But people who grow up around here definitely do lack any experience whatsoever with normal employment. He has a point I think. And besides, empathy is just a good excuse for pretending to help while profiting (with votes as well as financially) by working overtime to make everything worse for everyone, as is the Democratic Party’s platform.

Yeah, I'm a grumpy old white guy because I grew up working at SOMETHING since I was 12 years old because my folks didn't have much money and they kept what they had and made me earn (now, there is a big word for those neighborhoods Newt references) my own for spending, and I freely admit I am grumpy because too much of my still hard EARNed money goes to people who don't know how to legitmately EARN money. Newt is right, we need to offer these kids jobs, but you liberals have made it impossible for anyone to hire some kid with zero job skills at a wage they are qualified to earn. Your minimum wage laws pretty much preclude that, and even your obsessive application of food laws have shut down even the most humble child's lemonade stand. Yeah, I am a grumpy old white guy. You folks made me that, and Newt speaks for me.

Most Americans think that blacks use welfare and government out of all proportion to their proportion of the population, and they are right and you are wrong, Mr Waldman. According to the government itself, 40% of AFDC recipients are white. This is slightly more than half of the white population ratio of 70%. At the same time, 40% of AFDC recipients are black and this is 2.5 times their population ratio.So blacks are five times more likely to be on welfare than whites. This is what Americans know to be true because it is true. No amount of statistical legerdemain is going to convince anyone otherwise because we have eyes.

I seem to remember that during the first "workfare" programs during the Clinton years, one of the biggest problems with the new workers was basic responsibility. Understanding they needed to show up every day and that they needed to be on time. Despite his "way with words," I'm not sure what he was saying is too much different. So, he may be a pandering, but he does have facts at least mostly on his side.

As Bill Clinton has said, Newt is a guy that thinks about these things all the time. He is someone that understands that strategies are needed to address big problems. Not just someone naively saying things like "I will close guantanamo because it is bad" then starting a process wasting time and money and going nowhere because it hasn't been thought through.

EVERYONE in America sees the cycle of poverty. Almost everyone that has lived longer than 25 years can see that the populist approach of wealth redistribution doesn't solve the problem (although it can get someone elected). Newt is trying to put ideas out there that haven't been tried and has openly sought anyone's ideas on this and other issues via his website.

It is a sad commentary that Paul and many others on the left would rather try to paint Newt as a racist (which seems to be the response of choice for the left this year) than to engage in a dialog about breaking the poverty cycle.

What exactly is YOUR solution there Paul? Oh yeah I forgot, lets rely on Hope and Change. Great strategy Paul. How's that working so far?

Having worked with illegal Mexican immigrants when I was a cook during college, and having lived in Harlem, Washington Heights, and the South Bronx (where the rents are far cheaper), and being a conservative anti-welfare libertarian raised by upper middle class white parents, I can tell you Newt Gingrich's comments are poorly informed and Waldman's criticisms are spot on.

I am a Cain supporter. If Gingrich wins I will vote for him. Yes, welfare is evil since it rewards not working. But most poor people do work, and that includes Hispanics, negroes, and single mothers. The worst part about these comments is not that Gingrich is throwing meat to the base, but that he actually seems to believe his own unqualified prejudices are facts. Poor people didn't invent welfare. Welfare, rather, has corrupted the poor. If Gingrich thinks insulting minorities by proxy as lazy is a winning strategy, he is far from the futurist he pretends to be.

I like Newt Gingrich! Newt is intelligent, well thought out, a good academic, a good debater, and he has experience. Is he perfect? No, but I don't know anyone who is. Newt knows Washington, and won't need "on the job training". Newt is a “real” candidate and is not “manufactured” meaning that he hasn’t had his whole history hidden, and then remanufactured through his books as the current president. Before you judge Newt, visit his website and watch some of his speeches; he’s a wonderful orator! Newt Gingrich has my vote of confidence!

Gingrich is a man of bold ideas. How can we help all these kids from poor neighborhoods, where so few of the adults have jobs? Why, by taking jobs away from school custodians, of course. So that there are more adults without jobs. It's a kind of mobius strip logic that's a little hard to follow, but that's what makes it so bold. Similarly, Senator Mitch McConnell this week proposed that the federal government extend unemployment benefits, and pay for the cost of those benefits by reducing the workforce of the federal government by 10%. Thereby creating more people who need to file for unemployment benefits. Soon, a Republican will support the idea of repairing failing bridges, but only by taking parts out of other bridges.

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