The Common Good

Facts, Opinions, and Newt Gingrich

"Let’s start with the following two facts.

Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they 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 is illegal.

Second, every first generation successful person I know started work early. How many of you either did babysitting or cut grass, or shoveled snow or did something by the time you were 12 or 13?”
-Newt Gingrich, FOX News

A “fact” is, according to dictionary.com, “something that actually exists; reality; truth.” 

An “opinion,” according to that same source, is “a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.”

An example of a “fact” would be: “According to 2010 US census data there are now 46.2 million American’s living beneath the poverty line.”

An example of an “opinion” would be, “I don’t think Newt Gingrich knows any poor children or has spent much time in their neighborhoods.”

Newt’s first “fact” isn’t a fact at all but an opinion. And, it’s an opinion that fails to meet factual scrutiny.

You would be hard pressed to find someone who works with and for poor children in our nation who doesn’t believe that hard work is absolutely essential for children to succeed. It is.

Newt’s second “fact” might really be a fact. He really might not know anybody who is successful that didn’t babysit, cut grass, or shovel snow when they were 12 or 13 years old. (His desire to do away with child labor laws is a whole other blog post.)

But to say that kids in poor neighborhoods have “no habits of working” and have “nobody around them who works” is false and trivializes all of the hardships that poor people in this country face.

Three-quarters of those who live under the poverty line have jobs. Many more are looking for work. 

I don’t doubt that you can find people out there who are poor because they don’t have a strong work ethic, but all you need to do is turn on E! or browse TMZ for a few minutes to find lazy rich people who take no responsibility for their actions.

I lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago and the kids on my block were some of the most entrepreneurial I have met. They would buy bulk candy and sell it to people after they got off the train, offer to wash my car, or even sell snow cones on the block during the summer.

In my opinion, a lack of role models for people working hard wasn't a hindrance to these kids. It was that all the hard working people around them still couldn’t make ends meet. A job paying $10 an hour was hard to come by and you can work 40 hours a week at that wage and still not bring home $20,000 a year.

When you look around and see others working hard, playing by the rules, and still not necessarily knowing where the next meal is coming from or how to pay for medicine this month, it can deincentivize. When your school is falling apart and there aren’t enough text books or chairs in your classroom, education might not seem like a pathway out of poverty.

There is some possible good news here. Newt Gingrich so overreached in the 90s that there was a major reorganization within the Republican Party. David Brooks wrote in 2004, “Compassionate conservatism started out, remember, as a way to salvage the Republican Party from the wreckage of the Gingrich revolution.”

The worse Gingrich gets, maybe the stronger the compassionate resurgence will be.

Tim King is Director of Communications and Special Assistant to the CEO. Follow Tim @TMKing

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