Newt Gingrich says something outrageous. The media and/or conservatives react. He then claims he was misunderstood. This was the pattern in his condemnation of “social engineering” purportedly implicit in the Medicare reform plan of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It happened again with Gingrich’s pontification on child labor laws.
The Post reports: “GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich called child labor laws ‘truly stupid’ at a Friday appearance at Harvard University, saying that he would propose extraordinarily radical changes that would fundamentally transform the culture of poverty. Speaking at the John F. Kennedy school, Gingrich said that children in the poorest neighborhoods are ‘trapped in child laws’ that prevent them from earning money.” Someone must have told him that sounded downright batty.
So by Monday he was telling The Post: “He is not advocating revamping child labor laws, he simply wants to empower young people with a work ethic they need to succeed. ‘I’m not suggesting that they drop out of school and become janitors, I’m talking about working 20 hours a week and being empowered to succeed.’”
Whatever Republicans do to reform welfare, it is not likely to result in state-run orphanages for the children of unwed teenage mothers.In each case, Gingrich started with a defensible position: that teens should have more opportunities to get work experience, or that group homes might be one alternative for kids from troubled backgrounds. But because of the way he expressed himself, people will forever remember him as the guy who wanted orphanages and child labor.
For one thing, states are not clamoring to get back into the orphanage business. And the suggestion recently championed by incoming Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has become something of an embarrassment to the Republican Party.
"We're thinking about just taking orphanages out of the bill," said Robert Rector, a welfare expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He is helping draft the legislation.
More likely is a proposal for more group homes where young mothers could live with their children while finishing school or getting job training.
That concept, which was first proposed by conservative Republicans, was recently endorsed by the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate and conservative "New Democrats." Both President Clinton and Vice President Gore were founders of the group.
Gingrich has roiled his critics by consistently defending the idea of re- establishing orphanages. He got lots of media mileage last week from his suggestion that Hillary Rodham Clinton should rent Boys Town, the 1938 film about the Nebraska orphanage, before criticizing the idea.
But other top Republicans, in harmony with many of Gingrich's suggestions, have not lined up behind him on this one.
"I don't know where that came from," Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a Gingrich ally, said about the orphanage idea. "This is not something I want to see, or even bring up."