Cracking the code: Newt speaks to the base

This has been bothering me for a while.

Last week, GOP presidential frontrunner and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich said this at a campaign event at the Nationwide Insurance offices in Des Moines:

“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.”

And then he said this:

Adding that he thought child labor laws to be “truly stupid,” he continued: “And let me get into the janitor thing. What if they became assistant janitors, and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?”

The media pundits point to this as Newt misguided rhetoric on child labor laws, since he said about a week earlier:

“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’d have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

Everything neatly follows. Get rid of unions, use kids as janitors. Very simple message that appeals to the rich. Why pay adults a full salary when you can get a kid to do it for half the price. But those evil liberals won’t change the law to allow it.

That’s the message to one Republican constituency. But that’s one percent of the vote. So what will appeal to the 99 percent of the Republican base?

Think Lee Atwater and pull out your right-wing translation book. So when Newt says, Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods, the base hears: Really poor neighborhoods are in the inner cities where there are black people. So when Newt says, no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, the base hears: lazy black people. So when Newt says, So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day, the base hears: Black people don’t want to work. So when Newt says, They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal, the base hears: Black people are criminals.

Newt knows what he’s saying, and he knows what his base is hearing. He’s a master at the art of giving the base what it wants while fooling the “pundits” on what he means. So when he says: What if they became assistant janitors, and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom, the base hears: Black people shouldn’t be anything more than janitors.

Compare that to Michele Bachmann last week on another issue dear to the base. In Iowa, she was asked why can’t same-sex couples get married?

Her answer:

They can get married, but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.

No double entendre. Straight out discrimination. Red meat for the base. But unfortunately for Bachmann, the pundits clearly understand what she’s saying as well.

Here’s the thing about Newt. He says a lot more than you’re hearing. You have to listen closely.

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Put that kid to work

I wonder. Do these guys know what comes out of their mouths is insane when they say it? Chances are they do, and they do it to get a visceral reaction from their Red State, red-meat ravaging base.

Newt Gingrich tonight said at an address at Harvard that child work laws “entrap” poor children into poverty – and suggested that a better way to handle failing schools is to fire the janitors, hire the local students and let them get paid for upkeep.

The comment came in response to an undergrad’s question about income equality during his talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

“This is something that no liberal wants to deal with,” Gingrich said. “Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.

“You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model,” he said. “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.”

Now, there are a lot of things you can call Newt Gingrich, but he’s not stupid. He’s a historian, and he well knows that child labor laws weren’t created because of unionization or bureaucratization or income inequality or the desire to keep kids under 16 from learning the value of work. They were created because pre-teens were working seven days a week in sweatshops or coal mines or cotton fields or some other ungodly labor that paid pennies (or script) for hours of work. He knows that before the era of child labor laws poor families made a choice of either sending their kids to school or to the mines or the factories.

Child labor was common at the turn of the century, and many families needed the income earned by their children to survive. The 1900 census counted 1.75 million individuals aged 10 to 15 who were gainful workers.9 At that time, these children comprised 6 percent of the labor force. There were no national laws that governed child labor, and while some States enacted and enforced such laws, most did not. By 1999, Federal and State law regulated child labor; and Federal law effectively prohibited full-time workers under the age of 16.

He knows that child labor exists today in Asia and that multinational corporations, like Apple, are putting kids through the conditions we won’t allow American children to be forced into.

And he knows that corporations would prefer child labor, because you don’t have to pay kids as much as an adult. Which means that more adults will lose jobs and be put in a position where they’ll have to put their kids to work to make ends meet.

But he pretends that the source of America’s economic problems is the fact that children aren’t allowed to earn a wage.

That’s a lie, and he knows it. And if his constituents let him get away with it, that’s the point where you have to shift your contempt away from him and toward the voters who support these radical, inhumane ideas.