First of all, do yourself a favor and watch this movie:
The defining moment during this Republican presidential primary season came for me when Newt Gingrich suggested that school systems get rid of most of their janitors in order to hire students. It wasn’t just what he said, it was the subsequent response and lack of response that cued something off in me. Yeah, I was upset that he feels that it’s OK for 12 year olds to mix together chemicals, stand on 10 foot ladders to change light bulbs in the gym, and mop up their classmates piss. I get that. I’m a father of a teen. And I realize that this policy will end up causing some kids to be the target of abuse from a slew of their classmates as they intentionally urinate all over the floor so the poorest of the poor can mop it up.
What got me more was that he has no problem suggesting the mass firing of what I consider to be hard working under appreciated blue collar working class men and women who simply trying to provide a life for themselves and, perhaps, their family.
And what REALLY got to most of all was that the vast majority of well, us, didn’t even notice this last part. Most focused on the comment about the kids. We didn’t see that we’ve got a major presidential candidate who’s calling for a policy in which perhaps thousands of “union member” janitors lose their jobs. Had to use those words “union member” for effect of course.
Most of the pundit class missed it. Some quick points were made but everyone concentrated on the kids. The pundit class views life through their often “fiscally conservative and socially liberal lens” that all too often doesn’t take into consideration those working class stiffs that they (and many of us) pass in the hallway for much of our lives.
Republican primary voters missed it. They probably heard “union member” and automatically internally justified it. Damn unions. Plus it wasn’t about the horrors of gay marriage, preventing the very rich from being taxed one more cent, or shariah law coming to a town near you. I’m betting there weren’t legions of janitors at these rallies or debates.
Gingrich’s Republican opponents largely ignored it with the exception of Romney calling it “zany”. Plus, sticking up for working class people doesn’t gain much of an advantage for GOP candidates these days. See the previous paragraph.
Democrat operatives trashed him…again for having “zany” ideas and for painting it as a semi-racist slur. OK…I get that. Most of the people that live in “poor neighborhoods” are people of color (as opposed to “poor areas”) which could encompass emaciated old factory towns of the northeastern and Midwest US or rural areas that can be found in every state.
But the Democrats are now spending too much of their time these days concentrating on trashing the 1%. Falling back on blaming the 1% for a situation like this is a cop-out because it’s not just the one percent that causes this or overlooks or ignores this. It’s an overused slogan designed to assign and avoid blame and which allows us to avoid looking at major problems in greater detail.
What does this say about our polity? Our culture? What does it say when we all seem to either miss or to not really give a shit that a quick policy point could result in a bunch of working class people – many of whom may already poor in their own right – could lose their jobs. Jobs create dignity. The same dignity that Gingrich says that he wants to install in kids.
What it says to me that we’ve lost our priorities. Let’s face it. Janitors aren’t chic. They are (image wise) lower level blue collar workers who probably have little education. Many of them are people of color…just like those same kids in these “poorest of the poor neighborhoods”. Many of them are recent immigrants. They aren’t the target of Madison Avenue, or of movie studio heads, or of …politicians. They sort of trudge along silently behind the scenes making sure there’s toilet paper in the stalls. We don’t know their names – or at the very least their last names if they have their first name on a name patch. Or if they have families. Or what they are like after work. They’re janitors.
I’d like someone to explain to me how, in the economy, these relatively poorly educated working class types – many of whom could be their family’s primary breadwinner – are going to find comparable paying jobs. Will they have to go on some sort of government assistance…where society will look down on them even more? And perhaps require them to take a drug test to qualify?
Again, janitors aren’t chic. And the problem is that we’ve got a segment of the economic right that will look at a “union member” worker and deride them for having the audacity to want a better life and, apparently in this case, a steady job. Then there’s the economic left that may be more with the janitors in spirit, but all too often look with disdain at the private sector and the captial that backs that sector up which DOES create jobs. Then we’ve got social and cultural conservatives and social and cultural “progressives” that all too often try to dominate political discourse and then are more concerned about implementing their specific values on much of society.
Before I posted this, I did some research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for a janitor in an elementary or secondary school is $28,570 per year or $13.74 per hour. That’s not much above the poverty line for a family of four according to the federal government’s most recent poverty guidelines. Now, let’s take a look at what this asshole Gingrich is about.
He charged $60,000 a pop for his speeches. How long can a speech be? Half an hour? At the very least, Gingrich made more than twice as much in one day as the people he wants to be fired – you know, those union members – make in an entire year. His made somewhere between $1.6 and $1.8 million dollars in consulting fees from Freddy Mac and at one point has a monthly retainer of $30,000…giving him more in one month than what a janitor makes in an entire year. And he’s also on record that he usually gave them one hour’s worth of work per month. That would me he got paid about $30,000 per hour. Oh, yeah. Let’s not forget his account with Tiffany’s. Normally I would think this is a non-issue. It’s his right. It’s his money. But it was to the tune of $300,000. That’s more than 10 times the average public school janitor makes per year.
So instead of just blaming the 1%, or on “union member” people, we need to look into ourselves to figure out what type of people we are about.