Gingrich May Be Perfect for the Task

Much has been written about the scrappy legislator from Georgia, Newt Gingrich, who as the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives intends to ‘change welfare as we know it.’ To that end, the incoming Republican majority in the new congress has drafted legislation, “The Personal Responsibility Act.” Mr. Gingrich has pledged to put this legislation before congress for a vote within 100 days after congress’s next session reconvenes.

One of the more controversial aspects of the Republican’s draft legislation is to deny welfare benefits to children born out of wedlock and children whose paternity has not been legally established. Discussing the proposal in an editorial, The New York Times calls it a “grotesque assault on the poor for the sake of honoring their ideological war on government.”

Is the Republican draft welfare legislation rooted in ideology or does it stem form another source? A closer look at Mr. Gingrich’s own background and childhood experiences may just reveal the source of this “grotesque assault on the poor” as it was called by the New York Times.

A quick family portrait of the man next in line of succession for the Presidency after the Vice President: In September, 1944, Kathleen Daugherty married Newton C. McPherson Jr., a 19 year old automobile mechanic in a small town in Pennsylvania. The marriage lasted three days before 16 year old Kathleen returned home because Mr. McPherson had hit her for attempting to wake him up to go to work. As Kathleen Gingrich, now 68 puts it, “We were married on Saturday and I left him on Tuesday. I got Newtie in those three days.”

Mr. Gingrich also married young. In 1962, he married Jackie Battley over the objections of his stepfather, Robert Gingrich, a career U.S. Army officer. His new wife was his former high school geometry teacher and was seven years his senior. He was nineteen. This marriage lasted until 1980 when Mr. Gingrich filed for a divorce upon completing his first term in congress. Mr. Gingrich’s two daughters, Jackie and Kathy, were born of this marriage.

In 1992, Kathy, his oldest daughter, made news by taking part in a Washington news conference where she spoke on behalf of the National Republicans for Choice. When discussing their political differences, both she and her father, who opposes abortion, say that their family is strong enough to tolerate their differences. This also holds true for his siblings. Candy, his youngest half sister, is gay. He defines his position with respect to homosexuality as one of “toleration not condemnation.”

Perhaps drawing from his own experience growing up in a fractured family, Mr. Gingrich has a clearer vision of the problems confronting today’s family than a legislator without such experience. As the son of a teenage mother, Mr. Gingrich may be able to construct legislative policy and programs form the perspective of that experience.

Who would deny that Mr. Gingrich’s experience growing up as the child of a teenage mother does not provide him with special insight into the problems of teenage motherhood? Maybe it’s this experience, not ideology, shaping his views when he says the government should not pay child support payments to teenage mothers. Maybe he has a special appreciation of the value of a child living at home with an adult parent as opposed to living alone with a parent who is also a child.

Clearly Mr. Gingrich, who says he wants to do nothing less than save American civilization with a renewal of family values, was not brought up in an upper echelon family. He freely admits that he did not come from an idealized Ozzie and Harriet type family. A 1993 interview with the New York Times quotes him as saying “I’m not sitting here as someone who is unfamiliar with the 20th century.”

Mr. Gingrich may be just be the right man to lead congress as it attempts to reconstruct our welfare system. Who can most credibly tell single teenage mothers to live at home with their parents¼someone raised by a single teenage mother or someone who was not? Who can best tell fathers that after a divorce they must continue to support their children¼someone who has paid child support to an ex-spouse or someone who has not?

Finally, Mr. Gingrich is a successful individual, one who narrowly escaped the social horror confronting millions of children born without any knowledge of their father. In a society manifesting patriarchal values Newt Gingrich may be the best person to shepherd legislation through congress mandating an end to the birth of fatherless children in America.

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Originally Published: 4 January 1995, Montgomery Advertiser

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