Newt Gingrich is possessed of a Dickensian name, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that he seeks the presidency on a platform that seems to have been written by the unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge.
Remember Scrooge’s response to the collector for charity who approached him at the Christmastide with a request for "some slight provision for the poor and destitute"? Scrooge replied: "Are there no prisons?… And the union workhouses… are they still in operation?"
Later, in the company of the Spirit of Christmas Present, Scrooge encounters starving children—“This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want"—and asks: "But have they no refuge, no resource?"
The ghost replies by mocking Scrooge’s own words: "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
Charles Dickens was a social reformer, and his books (especially, but not exclusively, A Christmas Carol) helped to awaken readers to the condition of the poor, especially poor children. The pressure by nineteenth-century social reformers led, finally, to the adoption of twentieth-century child labor laws and commitments to universal public education.
Gingrich has never been a fan of those reforms. Almost two decades ago, he was busy talking up the virtues of packing poor children into orphanages.
Now, Gingrich campaigns to undo the progress of the past two centuries, arguing that child labor laws are "truly stupid."
Last month, Gingrich called for scrapping collective bargaining and child labor laws so that poor children could be forced to work as school janitors—presumably replacing their laid-off parents.
Now, the sudden front-runner for the Republican nomination is upping the ante, arguing in Iowa on Thursday that poor children are good for nothing, save criminal activity.
"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,” Gingrich said in a lengthy rumination on his campaign to end child labor laws. “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.”
The former Speaker of the House would cure the circumstance by firing adult janitors and putting the children—who, he complains, "are required by law to go to school"—to work cleaning up after wealthier classmates.
“What if they became assistant janitors and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?” Gingrich declared.
That, he suggested, would solve the problem of child poverty, and ultimately the broader challenge of income inequality.
And, if that is not enough, well, "Are there no prisons?… And the union workhouses… are they still in operation?"