Rachel Maddow: Newt Gingrich Is The Jonathan Swift Character In The GOP Presidential Primary Race

After discussing the various roles some of the other GOP presidential contenders might be playing in the Republican primary race this year, Rachel Maddow concluded that current frontrunner Newt Gingrich's role is that of the Johnathan Swift character whose “modest proposal” recommended making use of poor children by turning them into a source of food.
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After discussing the various roles some of the other GOP presidential contenders might be playing in the Republican primary race this year, Rachel Maddow concluded that current frontrunner Newt Gingrich's role is that of the Johnathan Swift character whose “modest proposal” recommended making use of poor children by turning them into a source of food.

As Maddow noted, Swift was joking in order to shock the public into having some awareness of the plight of the poor. Newt Gingrich, the “eat the poor” candidate with his long history of attacks on the poor in America, sadly, is not.

Between his advocating for having poor children replace union janitors in schools to clean the bathrooms, to calling child labor laws “stupid”, to arguing in the 90's that the government should take poor children away from their mothers and ship them off to orphanages, to his scam of a child literacy program he ran in the 90's, to calling President Obama “the finest food stamp president in history”, Gingrich if nothing else has served one purpose in this race as Maddow summed up this way.

MADDOW: It is useful to have Mr. Gingrich playing this role, articulating this viewpoint in this race. It's a return to Reagan era attacks on welfare queens, right? Eat the poor time. Everybody's got a role to play in this Republican campaign. […] Everybody's got a role to play. And Newt Gingrich's role as the frontrunner is he's a bit of a clarifying tonic with the whole country trying to understand the difference between the two parties on the most important issue of the election and the most important issue in the country, which is of course, pain... economic pain. The worst income inequality we have seen in generations.

Mother Jones has more on Gingrich's literacy program that she mentioned -- What Newt Gingrich Isn't Telling You About His Literacy Program

For a politician who once proposed relocating children from single-parent households to orphanages, it was not all that surprising when Newt Gingrich recently declared that, if elected president, he'd ease child labor laws to allow poor kids to work as janitors.

What's notable, however, is the newly minted GOP presidential front-runner's explanation. Gingrich argues that poor children lack role models who can instill in them the value of hard work—something that, say, a part-time job cleaning bathrooms could easily remedy. Making his case to an audience in Des Moines, Iowa, last week, Gingrich touted the work of an educational nonprofit he founded in the early 1990s called Earning by Learning (EBL). The program offered cash—$2 per book—to students as an incentive to read over the summer. What he failed to mention is that his group also led to a formal ethics complaint amid concerns about not just who was funding Gingrich's program, but where that money was really going.

As Gingrich tells it, the program started that first summer in 1990 with 9 kids and ended with 30. "What happened was simple," he said. "The ice cream truck comes by. The kid who's in the program walks up and buys their own ice cream. Their friend says to them, 'How come you have money?' He goes, 'Well, I read.' So kids are showing up to the program saying, 'I demand that you let me read!'"

The point of the story is that private initiatives often succeed where government programs fail. EBL was a lean, mean, private machine. "The overhead is entirely voluntary," Gingrich said of the program in 1995. "The only money goes to the kids. So if you have $1,000 at $2 a book, you can pay for 500 books. Whereas, in the welfare state model, if you have $1,000, you pay $850 for the bureaucracy."

But that description turned out to be false. A 1995 Mother Jones investigation revealed that the program's all-volunteer army came at a hefty price. The group paid its Atlanta volunteers $500 each; nearly half of the total budget of the Houston branch of the program went to one salaried staff position.

A Wall Street Journal report earlier that year was even more damning, revealing that most of the money in the program's endowment in Georgia was being kicked back to Gingrich's friends, including Mel Steely, a former Gingrich staffer who was at the time working on an authorized biography of the House speaker. According to the paper, "90% of the $20,000 raised in the past year went to Steely and two other professors who help him evaluate the program. The children earned less than $10,000, from money leftover from prior years." Read on...

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