The famous quote that says the degree of civilization of a society is measured by how it treats its weakest members was probably not referring to children because in most societies, it is a given that children must be treated well because they represent promise for the future. This is not limited to industrialized nations or advanced civilizations, but is a universal truth that parents understand and most humane people agree with. America is no different and any parent would agree that they would do anything to nurture their offspring to ensure a secure and content life. It is sad, but not all Americans hold children in the same regard and it is especially true if they are poor minority children.
At the GOP debate on Monday, Newt Gingrich reiterated his position that poor children should be indentured servants by forcing them to work. Gingrich’s statement and resulting standing ovation from equally inhumane Republican audience members has been critiqued and covered in great detail here, but instead of rehashing Gingrich’s statement, it is worth considering why the audience cheered at the prospect of child labor.
It is probable that the audience’s cheering was in part because their children were not in jeopardy of being forced into slavery, but they also love the idea of taking jobs away from union labor; more on that later. There is a sickness inherent in many Republican supporters that makes them hate the poor and extending their contempt to poor children is a natural progression. If Gingrich had said that all children, regardless of their parent’s income level, had to work in schools the audience may have held their enthusiasm in check. Make no mistake, Gingrich definitely singled out poor children because he said, “They’d be getting money which is a good thing if you are poor. Only the elites despise earning money.” Apparently millions of Americans who are unemployed are elitists who hate the idea of a decent, living-wage job and, instead, enjoy wallowing in poverty while real Americans earn money from investments and inheritances.
The sickening audience display was also evident that Republicans hate unionized labor. If that is true, and apparently it is, then those who cheered wildly should call a child the next time their house is burning or their property is being burglarized. Perhaps they will also call on children to care for them in hospitals when they fall ill or need surgical care. The audience and Gingrich have benefitted from union labor in every facet of their lives whether they fly around the country in private jets or drive luxury cars on paved roads. It is unclear why Republicans detest unions, but it is also unclear why they hate poor children. In fact, it is obvious that Republicans hate everyone who is not an affluent white Christian.
These days, Republicans have more Americans to hate than ever before. With nearly one-in-two Americans living at or near the federal poverty level, Republicans must hate half the population and they are on pace to increase those numbers drastically by obstructing job creation efforts of President Obama and cutting spending on programs to help the poor escape a life of poverty. However, it is their contempt for children that is distressing. Gingrich is not the only Republican to call for eliminating child labor laws to replace adult labor, and many Republicans advocate eliminating the minimum wage. Whether Republicans intend increasing the number of Americans living in poverty or not, their policies are guaranteeing that eventuality.
Newt Gingrich’s remark about forcing children into labor was not accidental or a misstatement. Gingrich knew the audience was callous when it comes to poor minority children and it may seem that it was the particular region of the country but it is not limited to South Carolina. In California there are those who advocate forcing poor children to work in schools mowing lawns, mopping floors, and cleaning toilets if they receive free or reduced-cost school lunches, or get tutoring help. The Republican sickness that engenders hate for the poor and especially children is universal.
Americans are kind-hearted people, but instituting child labor and putting janitors, cafeteria workers, and office help out of work to save money for the wealthy belies that notion. Children are supposed to be nurtured and given every opportunity to receive a decent education that will help them avoid living in poverty, but according to Gingrich and the cheering debate audience, that opportunity is reserved for white affluent children. If unionized school employees are out of a job so thirty poor minority children can avoid being elitists who despise earning money, then our society is in decline.
The predominate question for Americans is whether or not this nation reverts to pre-Civil War sensibilities where the poor are forced to serve white, wealthy landowners and their children. All children deserve equal opportunity to thrive and prosper with a good education, but Republicans object to equality to protect the wealthy’s tax breaks. One reason union labor is under fire is because Republicans want to take their decent-paying jobs to give the rich greater tax breaks. If it means indentured servitude for children, then that is the price to pay to help the 1% prosper.
One hopes all Americans are not emboldened at the thought of killing union labor and replacing them with children, but it appears that at least half the country favors forcing poor minority children into labor. Gingrich did not say how young children should be before they have to mop floors and clean toilets, but the callous notion of making any child work in school portends that there is no age too young. It would be interesting to poll the audience members who gave Gingrich a standing ovation to discover how many would acquiesce to their children taking on an adult’s job for a pittance. The chances are that they would object vehemently to that idea; but they love the thought of poor minority children cleaning their children’s toilets, washing their dishes, or serving them food.
Republicans claim Democrats engage in class warfare, but it is a deflection from their own war on the poor, and now on children. At a time when America should do everything to help all children thrive and benefit from a good education, Republicans intend on reserving that right for white affluent children and it is shameful. However, Republicans have sought to disenfranchise poor women, senior citizens, the middle class, and college students so it is not surprising they include children in that group. Hopefully, the world does not look too harshly on Americans because if they measure this country by the statements and policies of Republicans and their supporters, they would conclude that as a society, we are despicable people for, if nothing else, the way intend to treat our most cherished asset; our children.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.