Overheard on CNN.com: Readers debate Gingrich's comments about poor
Some readers said Newt Gingrich can't relate to poor people, while others supported the candidate's views on work ethic.
December 13th, 2011
07:55 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Readers debate Gingrich's comments about poor

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

In tough economic times, economic disparity and self-sufficiency are on the minds of many. CNN contributor LZ Granderson asserts that presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's comments about poverty, work ethic and child labor laws are unfair to those struggling to make ends meet. We saw a spirited discussion in the comments section displaying many perspectives and a variety of personal stories about rising up to find a better life.

LZ: Gingrich wrong about the poor

Several readers, like in the following example, thanked Granderson for telling his story:

208576: "LZ, thanks for the very honest commentary containing many important messages about our core values. I imagine at the end of my life it isn't going to matter how much money I made. I do imagine I will measure my life by how I treated other people. I aspire to leave every person I encounter daily feeling better for our interaction. I've learned to avoid putting myself in situations where I could make another human being feeling unfairly judged or worse off for interacting with me. Being rich has nothing to do with money to me. It has to do with how at peace one is with themselves, life actions, and relationships."

One commenter noted that in a changing economy, one must adjust to survive.

Overeducated: "Work ethic is good but not enough to get ahead. For young people it must be translated into school attendance and homework. The decent paying jobs for under-educated people have just about all gone overseas."

Several readers disagreed with Granderson and said Gingrich made valid points.

RAMBLE3144: "Sure, some poor work very hard. Very hard. But, Newt's absolutely right. Many don't and their kids see that. And see money being made selling illegally. Graduation rates and unemployment rates in poor areas show the facts. Your eyes would see the facts."

packagerjr: "According to LZ, if we're all poor, then we're a really great country! No problems helping the poor, but let's not act like that money can come out of thin air. Have you looked at what the American household's share of the national debt is?"

Many, many readers said they could relate because their families were in similar situations.

RationalDoc: "My father grew up in a housing project. My mother's family was so poor that at one point the kids were split up into an orphanage and with neighbors. I struggled to pay my own way through college while working, paid my own way through medical school. And while I could beat my chest and say it was all through strength of character, I was fortunate in many ways, so my accomplishments don't give me license to look down my nose at anyone still stuck in poverty. Many people are born into circumstances that many cannot relate to, and ones that they sometimes simply cannot overcome. John Boehner makes a big deal out of the fact that he swept his dad's tavern floors as a kid, yet he attended Xavier University, a very expensive private school, so he has a lot to be thankful for. Newt Gingrich is part of the typical right-wing mentality that anyone caught in poverty is there through their own sloth. It's arrogant, wrong and out of touch."

jenko11: "I know what it's like to be poor. We grew up really poor. I had to work odd jobs to help pay the bills. I was in high school then. I remember it got to a point we couldn't pay any bills, so I ended up in a foster home due to being homeless. I finished high school, put myself through college and medical school. Being poor taught me a lot. I remember sometimes not having anything to eat and actually going through the garbage to find food. Disgusting? Yes, but when you live on the streets, what can you do? My parents were hardworking, but they could barely make ends meet, and my mother was too proud to accept government handouts. Until Newt Gingrich has experienced both sides, he shouldn't make rash comments. Not every poor person is lazy or with no work ethic."

BethTexas1: "You're a success story and you prove that it can be done. My father grew up on the streets long before entitlements and he was dead set against welfare. He sold 20 years of his life to the Marines and fought two wars, but earned a Master's degree to give me a better life than he had. It can be done, but it takes effort."

JackiMaddie: "My grandpa grew up dirt poor with 12 siblings in the Appalachian Mountains. His education didn't go past the fourth grade because he had to help on the farm. Today he is a well-off man and all of his children graduated from college. He worked incredibly hard doing manual labor his whole life and never received help from the government. Sorry, it is possible to pull yourself up by the bootstraps."

Especially interesting were the exchanges between readers.

drowlord: "I propose that poverty 20 or 30 years ago is different from poverty today. I believe that you had hardworking poor in the '70s and '80s who were trying to build a better life for themselves and their children. I haven't encountered anything like that in a long time, though. When I get caught up in the lives of the struggling class these days, there's a lot of alcoholism, drugs, TV, video games or some other wasteful obsession destroying people's time and opportunity. Spare dollars are spent instead of saved. There is no responsibility or accountability anywhere, just anger and the indignant demand for a piece of someone else's pie."

KillerMike: "You're already biased to think that your generation is inherently superior to everyone else. I've worked with the poor and I can tell you right now that there are plenty of impoverished individuals with just as strong of a work ethic as the pampered upper class managers they work for. What's really changed is a lack of empathy. Somewhere along the line in the last few decades the media and politicians decided that blaming the victims of poverty and crime was a more effective solution then helping them actually climb their way out of a social rut. You clearly have not seen the silent majority of impoverished Americans who do save and do act responsibly and just want their children to live a better life than they could."

Should poor kids enter the workforce? Commenters debated the meaning of Gingrich's words.

MaryinAZ: "I was really annoyed when Newt suggested poor kids should be working as janitors in their schools to learn responsibility. There are just as many rich kids that need the same lesson. Paris Hilton, for instance, would benefit a lot more from learning just how hard it is to earn a dollar by pushing a broom than any poor kid. Maybe Newt could use the lesson too? I would LOVE to see him try to get by on a janitor's salary. He'd probably have to close his Tiffany account and everything!"

MaggieMoon: "He said that replacing a highly paid union janitor with a needy kid who needs to learn strong work ethics would be a good idea, and it is!"

More than one commenter took aim at Gingrich.

sammylane12: "How can someone deemed too corrupt for Congress by his own party be promoted to presidential candidate? The guy was run out of Congress by his own party. Now they want him to be president. If you are not scared you should be."

Gingrich definitely had a mix of opposition and support among the commenters.

traceLMNts: "Gingrich is a scumbag for singling out the poor. Sure, some are lazy and leech off the system, but plenty of rich people do as well."

SC2Pilot: "That doesn't make it right for poor people to do it."

banthisone19: "I don't think that anybody who hands his dying wife divorce papers while she's on her deathbed is in any position to criticize other people's life decisions."

PurdueEE: "Although humorous, this isn't quite as bad as people make it out. She had asked for the divorce previously, and wanted to be divorced before she died, apparently. However, I do strongly believe he is a terrible, terrible person."

To conclude this roundup, one of the most interesting conversations we saw was a conversation about the different types of attitudes one commenter observed among people.

2hokies:  "I worked in the inner city for six years with youth from the poorest projects in our city. What I saw was that about a third of their parents were lazy freeloaders waiting for the government check that came in at the beginning of the month. About a third worked harder than Newt, or most of us, could imagine at two or three jobs and still couldn't climb out of poverty for various reasons. The last third were hit by circumstances that would knock down almost any of us; repeated layoffs, medical problems that kept mounting up, abusive relationships with no one to help. It's easy to single out the first third and say 'cut everything,' but realize there are many good and honest people who are working very hard to tread water. If you don't care about them think about the young kids. What I found missing in most of the kids was the hope that if they worked hard they could climb out of this situation. When they rarely see it happen it is tough to believe the people looking down at them saying 'pull yourself up.' As for all of us who are Christians, it is important to remember that the 'neighbors' Jesus was telling us to help in scripture are not just the ones who live next to us, but these poor people, too.

jsmoulder: "The problem is a government-run agency that is run improperly. If it was set up correctly the poor would have a better start at getting out of the poverty, and help to move into mediocrity of the middle class. The third that just sits and waits for the next check would be weeded out."

FaceItYall: "Poverty is a cycle. Even most of those first third you mention have surrendered to hopelessness that is bred by a system that couldn't care less and situations that can't be helped. The psychological impact of poverty is as disabling as the circumstances that cause it. Bootstrap pulling will not solve this."

That was quite a conversation. What do you think? Can you relate? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Economy • Newt Gingrich • Overheard on CNN.com • Politics
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. red1

    Usa fell from the bottom up. How many of us have chumped another person or business of even 5$? How many of us have added even 10 extra mintes on our time cards at work? Can't complain about anyone's behavior if you have done either or both of these things.

    December 15, 2011 at 2:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. rpguy

    If you are on welfare, you are in the top 1% of wealthiest on the planet; if you made 2000 dollars last year, you are still in the top 2%. Now, how great is this country!!!

    December 19, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Randy

    The divorce/deathbed thing shows how easily the folks on the left swallow the propaganda. The woman is still alive.

    December 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
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    April 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
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