The Republicans’ “Ideas Man” & The Junior Janitors of America

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

A lot of interesting news stories have broken since I last posted at the Turley Blawg nearly a month ago. I’ve kept a running list of them. The story I decided to post about today is one that I placed under the heading “Asinine and Inane Ideas of the 2012 Presidential Candidates.” Now, truth be told, I had a plethora of stories from which to choose…so it wasn’t easy. I finally selected one about the new Republican frontrunner, a man who has worn many hats—former professor, author, ethically challenged Speaker of the House, serial adulterer, historian, covert lobbyist, king of bling—the one and only Newt Gingrich!

I have often heard talking heads on television refer to Newt Gingrich as the “Ideas Man” and the “intellectual” of the Republican Party. It may be true that Newt has a lot of ideas—but I have to question whether the talking heads consider all of his ideas to be good ideas. I admit that even I was surprised when I heard Newt’s recent pronouncement that child labor laws are stupid when he spoke at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. I was truly taken aback when he suggested that school janitors should be fired and that poor kids should clean the schools that they attended.

Newt’s Poor Kids Can Clean Concept

Newt Gingrich:

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid. 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.”

“You’re going to see from me extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America.”

That’s one radical proposal for sure. And one for which the “Ideas Man” received quite a bit of criticism. Newt bowed “to concerns that janitorial work is dangerous.” He then decided he needed to clarify his proposal and provided more specifics. He said poor kids could mop floors and clean bathrooms after school. He also suggested that they could sit in a clerical office greeting people.

I’m not sure where Newt thinks school systems will find money in their strained budgets to pay pupils to work after school hours. Has he thought about the valuable time school janitors and secretaries would have to spend training the children? And wouldn’t adults at the schools have to supervise the child workers?

I wonder what the little clerical school greeters might say to visitors. “Hi, my name’s Tommy. I’m poor and I got this job because I want to earn honest money and develop good work habits. I don’t want to grow up to be a lazy lump like my parents. Who are you?”

Do you think parents would be happy to learn that the bathrooms at the schools their children attend were being cleaned and disinfected by some of their fellow classmates?

Is this the kind of radical proposal that could actually change the face of poverty in America? Does putting poor children to work cleaning bathrooms and greeting visitors at their schools sound like a good idea to you?  Is Newt Gingrich really an “original or rigorous thinker?” David Boaz of the Cato Institute doesn’t think Newt merits that description “because he doesn’t drill down on ideas, integrate them into a larger philosophy or bat them around with peers.” Boaz said: “He strikes me as a guy who thinks of lots of ideas and never runs them through a sanity test before spilling them on a stage. I think he has had a tendency to just have idle thoughts occur to him as he’s reading the newspaper and then announce them without even running it by a colleague.”

According to an article in Politico, a number of conservatives think that Gingrich “is more idea impresario than idea generator, a bright and savvy politician who uses a facade of deep intellectualism effectively — but not authentically.”

Roderick Hills Jr., a constitutional law professor at New York University who’s active in the Federalist Society, said of Newt: “Nobody thinks of Gingrich as a wonky type. Nobody thinks of him as someone who has serious positions, white papers, policies on a wide array of issues coming from deep knowledge and experience. I don’t think of him that way, and I don’t know of any professor who thinks of him that way.”

The Republicans have been claiming that the Democrats are guilty of class warfare when they propose that people who earn $1 million dollars or more a year can afford to pay higher taxes. Do they think Newt is guilty of class warfare when he proposes that poor kids should mop floors and clean school bathrooms?

Newt’s Poem to Poor Kids

Go fetch a bucket

And grab a mop.

Now get to work.

Clean up that slop.

Scrub the bathrooms

From stem to stern.

Don’t be a slug.

It’s time to earn

Your living, kid.

You’re poor. Boohoo!

I have no pity

For kids like you.


Newt Gingrich, Pseudo-Intellectual Free-Trade Kool-Aid Drinker (Huffington Post)

Newt Gingrich: Child Labor Laws Are ‘Stupid’ (Huffington Post)

Newt Gingrich is an Idea Man (Quality of Ideas Not Guaranteed) (Huffington Post)

Is Newt Gingrich as smart as he thinks? (Politico)

Gingrich Doubles Down On Child Labor: Poor Kids Should ‘Clean The Bathroom’ (ThinkProgress)

Newt Gingrich says poor kids have no work habits, suggest janitorial work (Global Post)

Newt Gingrich’s child labor plan cleans up (The Guardian)

97 thoughts on “The Republicans’ “Ideas Man” & The Junior Janitors of America”

  1. I wish I could find the links that would guide readers to the articles and/or cases that would illustrate this, but time has passed (this was late 80s early 90s) and I cannot locate them. Anyway, a judge in Southern Maryland (Judge Bowen, cannot remember his first name) would sentence impoverished defendants (thus, at the mercy of the public defenders) brought into the court by the sheriff and police in the late spring and through the summer as follows:

    “Do you know how to pick tobacco, ever picked tobacco?”
    If the answer was yes, they got six months, and they would be jailed adn then driven out on a truck each morning by the sheriff’s folks to Judge Bowen’s farm, where they would pick tobacco, every day for six months, then get freed. If the answer was no, they’d get 30 days and probation so they could be brought back in on a probation violation if there really was a shortage of skilled workers that year.

    That’s where we’re heading, we’re heading to Judge Bowen’s farm.

  2. Gene,

    One more thing: When Julia is old enough, I’m going to teach her how to mop floors–then I’ll tutor her in basic bathroom cleaning. After all, she’ll want honestly earned cash that she can buy candy and ice cream with.


  3. Gene H.,

    I’ve begun my “nanny granny” duties–so I’m living with my daughter and son-in-law half of the week. I don’t have as much time now to write comments or blog posts. That said, I love spending time with my granddaughter. She is a joy to be with. She’s not fussy at all–and always wakes up smiling.

    P.S. I’ve been reading Julia the board and bath books that I got for her.

  4. Elaine,

    I’ve been catching up this evening on the posts over the weekend that I missed and I just wanted to compliment you on another well written, thoughtful and timely article. Bravissimo, bella signora.

  5. Way back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when discussions came up about the emerging global business model there was never a satisfactory answer to the question of how the US could insure that our workers wouldn’t be put in the position of competing with foreign labor making pennies a day and thus destroy our economy. There just never seemed to be a plan for insuring that other (foreign) boats would rise with the tide and our own not be swamped and sink to the bottom.

    I see the talk about destroying the child labor laws as a method of maintaining competition for some domestic labor that needs to be performed and that can’t be filled with conventional workers. Children and prison labor will fill that bill. As well, using child labor could reinvigorate the ‘assembly’ aspect of of the ‘manufacturing and assembly’ equation. Business is already looking for even cheaper alternatives to China. If we can actually get basic assembly-type work at a cheap enough labor cost using kids and/or prisoners we might see some business’ come back to the US, those spiffy Apple mice might one day carry a “Made In America” label. Sounds like a plan to me. :-/

    “Alabama Agriculture Department Advances Plan To Replace Immigrant Workers With Prisoners”

    “Farmers say crops are rotting in the field and they are in danger of losing their farms by next season. …

    To stave off the disastrous collapse of state agriculture, Alabama officials are seriously considering replacing immigrant workers with prison laborers who they could perhaps pay even less than immigrants. …

    Replacing skilled workers with virtually free (and sometimes actually free) prison laborers has become a trend in Republican-led states. Under Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) anti-collective bargaining law, at least one Wisconsin county replaced some union workers with prison labor. And Georgia is considering replacing firefighters with prisoners to save money.

    “China Now Has Third Highest Labor Costs in Emerging Asia”

    “According to figures released by China customs, the country’s export manufacturing trade reached US$1.58 trillion in 2010. It is to be expected that a significant percentage of this will relocate elsewhere purely to maintain economic viability for export manufacturers. …”

  6. I know where we can get the money! Mexican drug cartels!

    And since we’re competing with China on a global marketplace, why not make all rules and regulations even with them?(j/k) Either that, or impose some serious import taxes on all their crap. It’s not like their facilities are under the extreme regulations like ours, and it’s all the same planet so…

    If we’re really against child labor laws, shouldn’t our country boycott those which do employ them(children)? Shouldn’t it also be a crime to do business with known labor-law-breaking countries? Otherwise it seems like a case of the world criminals will do what they want, while the good law abiding persons become ever more hampered with restrictions. We just are hypocrites if we say you can’t produce that product here with those methods- but China can do it just fine so buy it from them.

    Speaking about bridges falling into rivers- how crazy is it that China is building our new San Francisco bridge! This one really strikes me as ridiculous.

    Couldn’t we just employ Americans, getting paid here, paying taxes here, for an American product we’re all proud of?

  7. They are non-partisan and the Right only agrees with them when it benefits them. We are talking adding up the past 2 years and projecting the rest of 2011. You don’t want to agree with them because you want the economy to tank.

  8. Great post, Elaine. Mr. Gingrich’s proposal will go nowhere, and he knows it. However, the significance lies in what it says about attitudes toward the poor in this country. He has received loud applause when tossing out this line before Republican audiences, who increasingly have come to regard poverty as a self-inflicted wound. Republicans used to rely primarily on appeals to racial prejudice to solicit votes. The 2012 election campaign will see a large increase in ads denigrating the poor and the unemployed.

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