Commentary: Newt and the Donald 'a-courting'
Liberals and conservatives both seem obsessed with the behavior of "the 1 percent," but there the similarity ends. Liberals seek to change the ways of the richest 1 percent, while many conservatives focus on the bottom 1 percent. The latter was on display as Republican Newt Gingrich proposed having poor young people clean their schools. He described them as "children in housing projects." You know who that is.
When Gingrich told the Occupy Wall Street folks to "take a bath," he was only partly right. Most everyone has to take a bath after listening to Newt.
On the other side of the tracks, Gingrich went a-courting to the door of Donald Trump, a sometimes Republican adept at using the party as his personal promotion office. Early this year, Trump launched a pretend quest for the presidency as he was negotiating a contract with NBC for the next season of "Celebrity Apprentice." Trump demanded that President Obama produce his birth certificate as proof that he was born in this country and briefly zoomed to the top of the Republican field.
Gingrich is famous for his three trips to the altar and two trips to the divorce courts. Of greater national import, he served as the nastiest speaker of the House in memory.
Newt's hypocrisy is legendary. The government-sponsored mortgage giant Freddie Mac apparently paid the Gingrich Group over $1.6 million to look after its interests in Washington. Newt's job included selling skeptical conservatives on the wisdom of keeping implicit government guarantees for Freddie's mortgages. (Freddie and its sister Fannie Mae have since collapsed into the arms of the taxpayers.) Nonetheless, Gingrich recently called for putting Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat, in jail for dealing with "a lobbyist who was close to Freddie Mac."
Despite these inconsistencies, Newt now leads the Republican pack among likely caucus attendees in Iowa. So let's treat his kids-as-janitors plan with the respect it deserves.
Of course, the comment raised a ruckus, and Newt had to explain. "I do not suggest children up to 14, 15 years of age do heavy janitorial work," he said. They'd be more suited to light maintenance.
"How many of you earned some money doing something by the time you were 10 years old?" Gingrich asked journalists in New York. "Baby-sitting. Cutting grass. Raise your hand."
My hand would have stayed by my side. I did both those things, but baby-sitting didn't start until the more responsible age of 14, and I cut the grass (my parents') for free. Would Newt hire a 9-year-old baby sitter?
Gingrich further explained that he just wanted to help poor kids learn to be responsible wage-earners, living as they do among few working adults, or so he assumes. One flaw in this thinking is that there would be fewer adult role models with jobs if children replaced janitors. Another is that if having students clean their schools is good for character-building, why shouldn't upper-middle-class kids be doing the same? The third is that schoolwork is already work.
Gingrich can't lose. If he doesn't get the Republican nomination, he would still have cranked up his perceived influence and perhaps his speaking fees -- currently, he says, $60,000 a shot. If he gets the Republican nomination and loses the election, same deal only bigger.
Newt is about to star in a presidential debate run by none other than The Donald. (Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman have sent their regrets.) After the janitor flare-up, Gingrich met with Trump, who immediately agreed to offer 10 part-time paid "apprenticeships" for poor children. Did two publicity machines ever mesh so seamlessly?
Froma Harrop's e-mail address is email@example.com.