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Gingrich Didn’t Go Far Enough in Criticizing Americans’ Work Ethic

It's not just poor minority parents who fail to instill good work habits in their children.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

December 29, 2011 - 12:00 am
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That’s what I told Gingrich during the interview. I asked him why he didn’t broaden his remarks beyond black teenagers to include white kids in suburbs who don’t know how to work or even hold a broom and sweep a garage…or, for that matter, why he didn’t broaden it to include Americans of all ages.

“First of all,” he insisted. “I didn’t mention color. I mentioned poor.”

He’s mistaken. See above. He did mention color.

“I think there’s a really great challenge for people who grow up in poor neighborhoods with no models of success that are immediate and that relate to them,” he said. “We have to overreach to help them frankly. But I don’t disagree.”

Then he proceeded to, well, disagree.

“My limited experience is that middle-class parents are dramatically more likely to require that their kids do real work in order for them to get rewarded,” he said. “They don’t just give the money. They actually want them to learn to be responsible.”

Undeterred, I pressed him a bit harder.

“Look,” I said, “you and I didn’t grow up wealthy. But we’ve met very wealthy people who often raise their kids to think of themselves as being entitled and not having to work, right?

“Yeah,” he conceded, “and it’s usually wrong. And it usually makes a mess of things. It sort of makes my case.”

Then, changing the subject a bit, Gingrich gently steered the discussion back to his favorite subject: himself.

“You’re touching on one of the things that makes me the most different as a leader,” he said. “I’m a cultural leader more than a political leader. And I think re-establishing the culture of work, and talking candidly and directly is part of that….”

“It’s a very important conversation that you’ve raised,” he said, “And it’s a problem that I really think we have to look forward to solving. I’m prepared to say bluntly: Students should have to do homework, and people should expect to work.”

Yes, they should — no matter where they live, how much money they have, or what their parents do for a living. That’s the better and stronger message, and I would have liked to hear Gingrich give voice to it. He still can.

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Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.
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