By Danny Tyree
It’s like an early Christmas gift to columnists! GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government that the nation’s child labor laws are “truly stupid” and called for vastly increased employment eligibility for kids who haven’t reached their mid-teens.
In particular, Gingrich spoke wistfully about the notion of firing most of the unionized janitors at inner-city schools and (under)paying students to do the work. Gingrich said such radical steps are justified because the kids need to develop a work ethic, because the kids need to take pride in themselves and because shoeshine jobs and “tote that barge, lift that bale” jobs have *sigh* gone the way of penny postcards and malt shops.
As I understand it, Gingrich is publicizing this custodial makeover with an ad campaign along the lines of “Silly rabbit! Toilet snakes are for kids!”
Some pundits have a knee-jerk response to label Gingrich’s plan as mean-spirited. That is not necessarily true, but we do need to be watchful that his Contract With America doesn’t get morphed into Contract With Sleazy Textile Mills by overzealous supporters. (These folks take the approach that “Children should be seen and not heard — unless the coal mine collapses. Then they better holler pretty loud, while the air lasts…”)
Critics warn that the child labor revamp is just one way Gingrich is planning to turn back the clock on progressive achievements of the 20th century. A campaign spokesman says nothing could be further from the truth. (“Newt doesn’t like to mess with clocks, since they’re part of a vast unionist/socialist plot. And once he’s in office, he vows to send Navy SEAL Team Six to eliminate all those pinkos promoting sundials and egg timers.”)
I’m not sure if pre-teens have the emotional maturity to uphold corporate values (“Quality is Job One —unless it messes with my curfew”), or make life-changing decision about either sticking with Social Security or going with Gingrich’s proposed private investment plan. (“Hey, I can’t even decide if I like Judy or LIKE like Judy.”)
Gingrich’s ideas were very sketchy in all the news reports I read, but the hints certainly entice the imagination into overdrive. Think about kids as high-voltage linemen, NASCAR drivers, alligator wrestlers, social workers (“He followed me home, Mom — can I keep him?”) But the most wrenching changes would take place if federal jobs got taken over by youngsters. Just imagine underage Secret Service agents (“He just shot the president! Kewl! That oughtta be worth a lot of points!”) and EPA inspectors (“Whoever smelt it, dealt it”).
Whatever your position on safety, breadwinner job security and idyllic childhoods, there’s no question that our entire cultural landscape will change if the child labor paradigm changes. Restaurants will advertise “Indentured servants eat free!” Embryonic stem cell research will skyrocket. (“If stem cells can be coaxed into replicating tissues and organs, maybe they can be coaxed into driving heavy equipment and digging ditches!!!”)
And piggy banks? Piggy banks will figure out some way to charge their owners HIDDEN FEES.
Perhaps our labor laws do need tweaking, but I dread the day when the G-20 economic summit becomes the G-20 slumber party. (“Girls, I submit that the euro should be tied to the current price of a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair. All in favor, scream, ‘Eeeeeeeee!'”)