Gingrich the compassionate
What his critics don't — or refuse to — understand about him is that he's not driven by a lack of empathy but by a surplus of it

Newt 2012

Article Highlights

  • Newt Gingrich wants to pay poor kids to clean toilets. And all of the right people are horrified. @JonahNRO

    Tweet This

  • A classically Gingrichian spectacle, illuminating a lot about the GOP candidate but also about his critics and fans

    Tweet This

  • What Newt’s critics don’t understand about him is that he's not driven by a lack of empathy but by a surplus of it

    Tweet This

Newt Gingrich wants to pay poor kids to clean toilets. And all of the right people are horrified.

The Nation says Gingrich is running on "a platform that seems to have been written by the unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge." The editors of the Newark Star-Ledger proclaim Gingrich wants to "bring back the days of Oliver Twist." The host of "Meet the Press," David Gregory, suggests Gingrich's take on the inner-city poor is a "grotesque distortion."

This controversy started last month at Harvard University, when Gingrich suggested in a speech that perhaps the best way to break the cycle of poverty in inner cities is to break the culture of poverty that sustains it by, among other things, paying kids to do janitorial work.

"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works," Gingrich explained recently in Iowa when asked to clarify his position. "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."

"It's a classically Gingrichian spectacle, illuminating a lot about the presidential candidate but also about his critics and his swarming ranks of fans." --Jonah GoldbergIt's a classically Gingrichian spectacle, illuminating a lot about the presidential candidate but also about his critics and his swarming ranks of fans.

Let's start with the man. Gingrich is a rhetorical yoga swami. As my National Review colleague Kevin Williamson says, he can shove his foot in his mouth while putting his finger on the issue.

Gingrich is right about the culture of poverty, but he opens himself to easy rebuttal by speaking so sweepingly and categorically. And did he really have to pick toilet scrubbing as his preferred workfare?

Still, what his critics don't — or refuse to — understand about him is that he's not driven by a lack of compassion but by a surplus of it. The liberal bureaucratic mind-set seems to define compassion simply as spending more money on systems and policies that have made problems worse and keep the usual special interests happy.

Gingrich thinks compassion should be measured not by inputs but outputs. Spending trillions on poverty is beyond simply uncompassionate if you waste the money and make things worse. It's evil.

The Obama Challenge: PDF transcript

Download PDF
Anyone who wants to understand Gingrich's views on poverty should read his March 27, 2008, speech at the American Enterprise Institute (where I'm a visiting fellow). Taking up President Obama's challenge to start a conversation about race, Gingrich rejected then-candidate Obama's suggestion that the legacy of racism combined with a failure to fund education to liberals' satisfaction "helps explain the pervasive achievement gap" in poor inner-city schools.

"That is simply factually false," Gingrich declared. "The Detroit schools are the third or fourth most expensive schools in America. They're a disaster." Washington, D.C., schools — perhaps the most expensive in the country — don't languish because of racism, Gingrich explained. They're bad because D.C. "has an incompetent bureaucracy, a failed model of education, a unionized tenured system. It is utterly resistant to improvement. That has nothing to do with racism."

He noted that when Newsweek asked Oprah Winfrey why she went to South Africa, and not South Chicago, to open a girls school, she responded: "I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there. If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys; they ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

Gingrich probably agrees with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan more than any other leading conservative. "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society," Moynihan observed. "The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." A constant theme of Gingrich's career is a desire to use government to fix the culture.

That's the irony of the Gingrich surge. All of these Republican voters who once supported Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, and are now flocking to Gingrich, seem not to have noticed Gingrich's progressive bent.

The primary season began with a race to see how much of the government we could send back to the states. We're now in the phase in which the Republican front-runner is proposing janitorial reform in the schools.

Jonah Goldberg is a visiting fellow at AEI.

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Jonah
Goldberg

What's new on AEI

Making Ryan's tax plan smarter
image The teacher evaluation confronts the future
image How to reform the US immigration system
image Inversion hysteria
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 01
    MON
  • 02
    TUE
  • 03
    WED
  • 04
    THU
  • 05
    FRI
Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
From anarchy to Augustus: Lessons on dealing with disorder, from Rome’s first emperor

We invite you to join us for two panel discussions on how Augustus created order from chaos 2,000 years ago, and what makes for durable domestic and international political systems in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Multiple choice: Expanding opportunity through innovation in K–12 education

Please join us for a book launch event and panel discussion about how a marketplace of education options can help today's students succeed in tomorrow's economy. Attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the featured book.

Thursday, September 04, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
How conservatives can save the safety net

Please join us for a luncheon event in which our panel will discuss what conservatives can learn from how liberals talk and think about the safety net and where free-market economics, federalism, and social responsibility intersect to lift people out of poverty.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.