yourself in a world
which is doing its best day and night to make you like
everybody else means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” —e.e. cummings
A friend wanted to share some thoughts about Newt Gingrich and his brilliant plan to essentially enslave poor people. Enjoy!
It should come as no surprise that Newt Gingrich recently suggested at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business that the culture of poverty could be changed by simply revoking those portions of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act that restrict child labor, thereby allowing underprivileged children in inner-city neighborhoods to replace their school’s janitors. After all, this idea is completely consistent with Gingrich’s Victorian worldview that the poor have chosen their situation. When viewed through this prism, allowing poor children to scrub the toilets in public schools would allow them to “have the same chance to pursue happiness” as middle class students. In fact, when combined with Gingrich’s comments during the 1994 debate over welfare reform that suggested that states cut payments to large numbers of aid recipients and put their children in orphanages or group homes funded by the savings, voters can simply go “back to the future” to see Gingrich’s America might look like.
To do so, one must envision a nation in the throes of an economic recession. The Brits in 1834 are the Americans in 2011. The nation, the conservatives say, is being held back by the poor whose poverty is caused by weakness, if not sloth, and who deserve punishment, not pity. The solution is simple and harkens from the days Dickens: Remove all “outdoor relief”—defined as “assistance in the form of money, food, clothing or goods, given to alleviate poverty without the requirement that the recipient enter an institution”—and replace it with a system of workhouses. Dr. Ruth Richardson’s article for The Daily Mail on efforts to preserve the workhouse that was the inspiration for Oliver Twist, aptly describes just how such workhouses functioned and how, for Gingrich, they just might work again.
After the end of outdoor relief, according to Richardson, the poor could only receive welfare assistance inside the workhouse. But these were to be made deliberately harsh, unpleasant places, so that people would strive to keep out of them. “Entering the workhouse was a humiliating experience. People were stripped, scrubbed and made to wear uniforms of coarse fabric to avoid infestation. Unmarried mothers were put on a starvation diet to deter them from having any more bastard children. Families were broken up: children were separated from their parents and husbands from wives. All were forced to undertake hard labour.”
Think that even the Far Right doesn’t have the stomach for this? Think again. The text from a widely circulated opinion piece that appeared in the Waco Tribune in November of 2010 reveals that, if anything, Gingrich’s plan to turn the clock back on our social policies 200 years is far too generous for the liking of his base. One line from the opinion piece reads, “Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal ligations.” Another states, “Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a military barracks? You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair. Your ‘home’ will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried.” Another indicates that “You will either present a check stub from a job each week or you will report to a ‘government’ job. It may be cleaning the roadways of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you.” The piece concludes with “While you are on government subsistence, you no longer can VOTE! Yes, that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You will voluntarily remove yourself from the voting rolls while you are receiving a government welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.”
In spite of such heated rhetoric, Americans can rest assured that Gingrich’s re-envisioning of the 1834 Poor Law won’t go this far. Poor children will not die trapped in chimneys that they are supposed clearing of soot and ash. After, all cleaning toilets can be similarly edifying. And because Gingrich is a student of history, he will know to avoid the “mistakes” that ended the workhouse system in England. There will be no Andover Workhouse here with starving inmates fighting each for the chance to suck the marrow from the bones that they are supposed to be smashing, for this is, my friends, is Compassionate Conservatism.