Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich needs no introduction, being one of the most scandalized Republican runners. However, he apparently needs a lesson about college.
“Students take fewer classes per semester. They take more years to get through. Why? Because they have free money,” Gingrich said to Republicans in Florida last week.
The quote ended up in the Washington Post and spread to newspapers like the Houston Chronicle. There is no telling how many college students — former and present — read his words on the Internet.
If there were any young college students planning to vote for him prior to the remarks, there should be none afterward. Gingrich must know how wrong his words were. Not wrong in an insensitive or rude sense — wrong as in false.
First, there is “free” money, but there is no such thing as free money. Gingrich should be aware of this thanks to all the campaign contributions he’s received. Free money is as real as unicorns and honest politicians. What most students use to pay tuition is not “free” money: student loans and credit cards. Both of these things students must pay pack with interest.
Secondly, students take fewer classes per semester, true enough. Many students enroll longer and delay graduation. But this is because students have almost no money. With little money, many students take fewer classes and work to pay off their tuition.
The only answer to why Gingrich would alienate himself from young college-bound voters with such insults is that he thinks he does not need the young vote. By insulting the young, he compliments the old.
“I would tell students, ‘Get through as quick as you can. Borrow as little as you can. Have a part-time job.’ But that’s very different from the culture that has grown up in the last 20 years,” Gingrich said.
The only culture differences between now and 20 years ago is the cost of tuition. This may be news to Gingrich who has not attended college in years. He might expect an 18-year-old not to vote, but the average UH undergraduate is 22 years old. The average UH graduate student is 29. We’re not an anomaly, which puts his “culture of 20 years ago” comment out the window.
Age does not entitle him to be rude or ignorant. When he mentioned borrowing little and working part-time, he did not realize these are common steps, that completing college in eight semesters is no easy feat.
Other candidates have yet to show a cold shoulder to young voters. Rick Santorum was quoted saying that President Barack Obama wanted more students in college to “indoctrinate” the young into a “left-wing ideology,” but this isn’t technically insulting students or voters per se.
A 21-year-old in New Hampshire asked Mitt Romney in Dec. 2011 why college students should vote for him. Romney answered bluntly.
“What I can promise you is this: When you get out of college, if I’m president you’ll have a job,” Romney said. “If President Obama is re-elected, you will not be able to get a job.”
Admittedly, Romney was talking to only the one student. The message is still a bit hard to swallow. Will students not be able to get a job if the incumbent is re-elected?
Last but not least, Ron Paul has no trouble getting young voter support nor is he likely to insult them. Although Paul is not the only Republican candidate with a limited-government stance that appeals to young entrepreneurs, Paul won 31 percent of the youth vote (ages 18-29) in the South Carolina exit poll — showing off his popularity with student bodies. Gingrich got second place of that age group, but if he continues to make these insulting remarks about college students, that number might not mean much for long.
Not that it will make a difference if students stay indoors on election day. Some candidates are counting on it.
David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at email@example.com.