Gingrich Stands Firm on Child Janitors, Iowans Applaud

Newt Gingrich defends his proposal to have poor children work as school janitors, appealing to Iowa farm families.

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MASON CITY, Iowa—At a campaign stop in Iowa today, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich refused to back down from one of his most-derided positions.

An attendee of a Gingrich event at a mall in Mason City asked Gingrich to revisit his controversial recommendation that schools put poor children to work as janitors. Though the comment has drawn widespread criticism, Gingrich stood firm. Pointing out that janitors can make $100,000 per year (a point that fact-checking websites Politifact and Factcheck have questioned), Gingrich proposed instead hiring "30 kids at $3,000 a year to work part-time in the school." He added, "And I'll be bold: they could mop the floor."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Newt Gingrich.]

To those from more bustling metropolises, Mason City might barely be considered a city—it has a population of 28,000 and is surrounded by corn and soybean fields, many owned by family farmers. Gingrich took advantage of these facts by appealing to the crowd from a rural perspective: "I think if you talked to most Iowa farm families, they'd explain to you what they have their kids do, and it turns out that [the kids] encounter real work, some of them actually get dirty, [and] they sometimes encounter dealing with things with animals."

In his response, Gingrich issued harsh criticism to those who have criticized his view on the topic, particularly liberals, deriding what he called "mindless left-wing thinking."

[See pictures of the GOP Candidates Heading to the Iowa Caucus.]

"So I'm going to defend my belief that if we had more work, we would actually have earned self-esteem. You can't give self-esteem. You have to earn it. And that's why the left is profoundly wrong about how America works."

While Gingrich's child-janitor proposal has inspired outright derision from some corners, including conservatives, his defense worked with this crowd, which met his defense with enthusiastic applause.

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