In "Occupy" Era, GOP Frontrunner Thinks Poor People Are Lazy Criminals Who Don't Know Any Better

December 02, 2011 4:01 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Last night on Fox News, Greta Van Susteren asked Newt Gingrich about his statement that "Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods, have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works...unless it's illegal." Gingrich didn't defend the idea so much as elaborate on it, as though he expects it to be an uncontroversial depiction of American poverty.

GINGRICH: Well think about somebody who grows up in a neighborhood where nobody goes to work, they live in a housing project where there're no examples of success, they don't acquire any of the habits. [...] But let's break out and let's start some new experiments, and let's help the poorest children in America have a better future of actually pursuing happiness within honest, law-abiding jobs. And I think that means you wanna start at a fairly early age doing very light work but nonetheless learning to show up, learning to do it, learning to be part of a serious, productive team.


No one should expect walkback from Gingrich on this one. Not only is this a pretty standard belief among right-wing ideologues — after all, markets work so perfectly and fairly that the only explanation for poverty is laziness — but it's something Newt's been saying on the record for the better part of 20 years. Here's how he put it in 1995:

[Gingrich] said the failure of poor blacks to achieve was partly the result of their "habits," described blacks as having little entrepreneurial tradition and said the civil-rights movement had become more focused on filing grievances than on promoting economic opportunity. [...]

He acknowledged that it was more "difficult to acquire wealth as a black in America" but added that more than skin color is at play. "The truth is that preachers and lawyers have been more dominant in the black culture in the last 40 years than have business people," said Gingrich. "The habits of the church and the habits of the lawsuit have been more powerful than the habits of acquisition and the habits of job creation."

Meanwhile, in the fact-based world, we know that there are now 100 million Americans "either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it," we know that many of these people have "habits of working" but aren't able to work because the economy hasn't fully recovered from Wall Street's evisceration of the American Dream, and we know that wages have remained flat for the past 35 years as income inequality has soared.

This obsession with "habits" and the belief that poverty is both learned behavior and a conscious choice to live on the dole rather than work a shovel is at the core of Gingrich's ideology. Gingrich is, apparently, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. At a time when economically disenfranchised protesters are calling attention to the broken promises of trickle-down economics and financial deregulation, the Republican Party appears ready to nominate a man who thinks the only thing keeping poor kids from being tomorrow's Masters of the Universe is that they're accustomed to a life of crime and laziness.