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Is Newt Gingrich too mean to win?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
November 22, 2011 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich suggested loosening restrictions on child labor
  • LZ Granderson says the idea fits into Gingrich's approach to America
  • He says Gingrich's mean-spirited policy ideas clash with his statements on education
  • Granderson: Americans admire Obama's character, but won't feel the same about Gingrich

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @locs_n_laughs

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- I'm going to assume anyone who heard about Newt Gingrich's proposal to ease child labor laws and still wants him to be president doesn't have kids.

Nor do they know anyone with kids.

And it's quite possible they have never been kids themselves.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Speaking at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government last week, Gingrich answered any question one might have about whether or not the 2012 version of Newt is better than the original version, the one who said he persecuted President Clinton for lying about an affair, while having one of his own.

"These schools should get rid of unionized janitors," he said. "Have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work; they'd have cash; they'd have pride in the schools. They'd begin the process of rising."

Yep, still sounds like the old Newt to me.

The one who compared bilingual education to teaching "the language of living in a ghetto" back in 2007 and then tried to apologize to the Latino community by butchering Spanish, the language he claimed he was not referring to when he made the remarks.

You know, sometimes when I listen to Rick Perry or Herman Cain try to talk about something complicated, such as foreign policy for example, I think: "Seriously, Republicans? You had three years to come up with an alternative to President Barack Obama, and this is what you bring us?"

But my thoughts about the former speaker of the House are very different. I don't think Gingrich is in over his head, unlike Cain, Perry and others. In fact, he's a very smart man. He has a Ph.D. from Tulane University and oftentimes comes across as the sharpest guy on stage during the debates. The problem is that between his smirk and snide remarks about the other candidates, Obama, voters, the media -- basically anyone who is not him -- he often comes across as a know-it-all and/or Scrooge.

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He's the kind of guy who would see you heading toward the elevator with bags in your hand and would stand back and let the doors close in your face.

Research shows that a college degree is the key to upward mobility. We also know that early childhood education lays the foundation individuals need to succeed in kindergarten that puts them on track to earn that degree. And despite this, states continue to cut funding for early childhood education to cover holes in their budget.

And what does Newt say?

Well before he announced he was running for president, he was on NBC's "Meet the Press" with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying "education is the number one factor in our future prosperity, it's the number one factor in national security and it's the number one factor in these young people having a decent future."

But now that it's his turn to be the anyone-but-Romney candidate, and thus he must pander to extremists in his base, he said put a broom in the hands of the children of the working poor.

And they say Mitt Romney flip-flops.

It would seem that if Gingrich really wanted to see poor kids "begin the process of rising" -- and be consistent with what he said in 2009 -- he would be lobbying for funding to be designated for early childhood education to address the cycle of poverty, not busting up janitor unions and making poor kids indentured servants.

He didn't mention any of that when he was a guest on "Meet the Press" with Sharpton and Duncan. It seems if that was an idea he's always had -- as he claimed last week at Harvard -- he would have told them.

I understand we are in troubling economic times, but there is a difference between being a strong leader who is not afraid to make tough choices and being a mean-spirited hypocrite who will say whatever he needs to gain power and, even at 68, appears not to have softened one iota over the years when it comes to poor people.

I remember Gingrich and his involvement with 1994's "Contract With America," which would have denied welfare assistance for unwed mothers younger than 18. And here we are in 2011, and he thinks poor middle school kids should be janitors.

I shudder to think whom he would not have compassion for if elected president.

Some of the GOP candidates are too simple-minded to be president.

Gingrich is just too mean.

The reason why Obama's personal approval rating still hovers around 70% is because he possesses an approachable quality that embodies the good we want the world to see. I do not believe Gingrich has that quality. More importantly, I do not believe he cares. Why else would he spend hundreds of thousands at Tiffany's while claiming he understands the hurting nation's pain? You don't need a publicist to tell you that won't be well-received.

You just need compassion for those you want to serve.

Which I guess, if you think about it, he does -- the problem is he only wants to serve himself.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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