Commentary: Gingrich can't be the GOP's best option

2012 Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich in October 2011
2012 Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich in October 2011 Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT

There must be something in the glorified air breathed by front-runners vying for the Republican presidential nomination that makes them lose their minds.

We saw Rep. Michele Bachmann's lead fade as Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race and just after she said the HPV vaccine Gardasil causes "retardation," despite research saying otherwise.

When Perry led the pack, we saw him stumble a couple of times when quick recall was demanded of him.

Then came Herman Cain, Baptist minister and former pizza czar, who said he would learn the name of the president of Uzbekistan — or, as he said, "U-becky-becky-becky-becky-stan-stan" — when it was time to learn that leader's name. I assume that would have been some time after he had figured out whether he was for this country's stance with Libya.

And now, true to form, current front-runner Newt Gingrich is allowing his thoughts and words to trip him up.

On Nov. 18, Gingrich spoke at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government about income inequality. He said part of the problem are "truly stupid" laws governing child labor that have added to the percentage of folks living in poverty in America.

He said unions and bureaucracies in this country's poorest neighborhoods have crippled poor children by putting them in schools that fail. That situation "has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy."

And so, because those schools are failing the students, Gingrich suggested poor children should be employed by those schools as greeters or librarian assistants or janitors to teach them a work ethic.

So, schools that fail poor children should put them to work. I guess that will teach them. If that is such a good plan, why not have rich kids clean bathrooms as well?

Gingrich suggested that the union workers, the janitors and librarians and clerks, should be dismissed, replaced by the students.

Or, if the job is too dangerous or technical, the students can simply help the worker.

I know. I'm trying to follow the logic, too.

Gingrich would help poor kids by giving them a job that, quite possibly, is held by a parent who has a poor child in school. Then the true breadwinner would be out of work, living off his child's paycheck.

Or, give the poor kids a position that the school system would be hard-pressed to pay for with the austere budgets that systems are dealing with.

When confronted with the insensitivity of his words a few days later, Gingrich didn't back down.

"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works," he said in Iowa. "So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash,' unless it's illegal."

No one must have told Gingrich, who has a revolving account at Tiffany and Co., that some really poor people have jobs that simply do not pay the bills. Those folks are widely reported to be the "working poor."

But Gingrich wasn't finished.

After putting kids to work by giving them grown-ups' jobs, Gingrich attacked the food stamp program.

Instead of books of redeemable coupons, he said, "You get a credit card, and the credit card can be used for anything. We've had people take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii."

Some people in the audience laughed, probably thinking he was joking.

He wasn't.

I agree that there is fraud and mismanagement in the food stamp program, just as there are serious issues with Gingrich's term as speaker of the House in the 1990s.

With so many problems in this economy that can be addressed and corrected, I don't understand why Gingrich decided to pick on poor people.

Putting kids in failing schools to work instead of providing them with a better education sounds so out of touch.

Claiming that food stamps are used to pay for trips to Hawaii is an insult to the growing number of families forced to use them to keep food on the table.

Please. And he is the frontrunner. Good grief.

On Sunday on Fox News, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he would have difficulty supporting Gingrich's campaign, "having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership," when Gingrich was speaker of the House.

Coburn said there are "all types of leaders. Leaders that instill confidence, leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk. Leaders that have one standard for the people that they're leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found his leadership lacking, and I'm not going to go into greater detail in that."

I find Gingrich's leadership lacking as well, especially since he has thrown poor people under his luxury campaign bus.

I don't know who the Republicans will choose to face off with President Barack Obama next year, but the folks who have bubbled to the top lately haven't been the cream.