(2 of 2)
When you strip away the racial appeals, though, Gingrich proposes some very creative ways to address poverty and dependency. At the heart of his theory is a concept that was embraced by Clintonian Democrats in the 1990s--reciprocal responsibility. You can receive welfare benefits, but only on a temporary basis and if you're looking for work. You can get income support and food stamps if you're already working, but only if your wages put you below poverty level. You can get a college scholarship if you perform two years of national service. Hence Gingrich's excellent proposal that those receiving unemployment insurance should be required to find a job-training program (or, I would add, attend a community college and get a degree in some upgraded technical skill). Hence Gingrich's idea that poor kids be paid to do light janitorial work in their schools.
And yes, as Newt suggested, that last idea did come from me--although I put a slightly different twist on it.
I first made the suggestion in 1991, after the New York City janitors negotiated a gaudy contract that required them to mop the cafeteria floor only once a week.
I proposed that the city hire private contractors to do heavy work like boiler maintenance and have students and their parents help keep the schools clean. But not just poor students--all students, even those attending the city's elite high schools. It was a form of public service, intended to build a sense of responsibility and community in students of every income level.
I still think it's a pretty good idea. It may be even more compelling now, given the rising cost of government and decline in creative citizenship. Maybe all of us should start our adult lives working for a few years--not volunteering but getting paid at apprentice levels--for the government in some limited capacity. Maybe we'd have a stronger society if we spent less money paying other people to provide public services and spent more time providing them ourselves.
TO READ JOE'S BLOG POSTS, GO TO TIME.COM/SWAMPLAND