When I asked last May for reader thoughts on the defining themes of the 21st century, my friend Van Ballard responded with the challenge to “merge the ever growing number of minority groups in this country with our existing political, economic, educational, and religious culture without losing our democratic system of government and simultaneously avoid open conflict”. It would be difficult to argue that this is a daunting challenge and one that certainly belongs high on the list of American priorities. But, as with many of our “wedge” issues, I wonder if we have the political will or, as important, the institutional fortitude to confront it. I read the reports of the cultural fault lines that are surfacing in the Netherlands and Germany, for example, as a result of the huge influx of people from non-Western cultures, and I share Van’s concerns about the growing multicultural ethos in the U. S. and what it means for our unique republican institutions.
The debate over whether America is essentially an idea or a culture has raged among our leading intellectuals for well over a century (see A Culture Or An Idea?, The Texas Pilgrim, April 2000), but whatever the answer, there is no doubt that, until recently, there had been a consensus in the expectation that immigrants to our country should be assimilated with our values and foundational beliefs. Consistent with this has been the expectation that immigration should be as beneficial to the host country as to the incoming immigrants, which at a minimum implies the loyalty of the new arrivals to the host nation. This consensus and its intellectual grounding have apparently collapsed. As John O’Sullivan notes in a recent article in National Review, there is a series of new assumptions and related rules around the world concerning the obligations to assimilation and loyalty. These assumptions would transfer the obligation to change from immigrant to host nation. Accordingly, in the interest of the immigrant’s autonomy and self-actualization, it is the responsibility of the host to accommodate its practices and institutions so that the immigrant can remain his “old self”. If you think this is far-fetched, consider that a former general counsel for the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service remarked that assimilationists repeat “the old error of seeing America as fixed and placing the needed adjustment on the immigrant’s side. A more accurate understanding pictures America as a contract under constant renegotiation”. In a previous issue (June 2000), I posed the question, “is the American proposition still valid?” If we answer this question in the affirmative, we need to come to grips with the fact that this proposition is totally incompatible with our current immigration policy and our growing reverence for the gods of multiculturalism and cultural relativism.
Recently I read David McCullough’s John Adams in order to attend as a guest a meeting of my wife’s book discussion group, and it reminded me of the qualities of this most under-appreciated of our founders. McCullough’s treatment has been criticized as overly admiring of Adams, overly contemptuous of Thomas Jefferson, and, as popularly written history often is, lacking in academic depth. Possibly it is some of all of these, but it was still a great character study of both John and his brilliant and devoted Abigail. As the American counterpart to the British founder of conservatism, Edmund Burke, Adams probably left more written conservative political philosophy than any American founder, and his dogged pursuit of federalism and classical republican virtue set an example that lives today. For an excellent review of his political thought in more depth, I recommend Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. I have long believed that it is a great disservice that there is not even a small monument or memorial in the nation’s capital honoring the man, but Adams himself anticipated as much, writing to Jefferson some years into their retirement, “My [conservative political treatises] were the cause of that immense unpopularity which fell like the tower of Siloam upon me. Your steady defense of democratical principles and your invariable favorable opinion of the French Revolution laid the foundation for your unbounded popularity”. A major disservice indeed!
The latest word from California education officials is that they are discussing whether to postpone the enforcement of the state’s new high school graduation exam because so many students (evidently up to 50%) are failing the test. The president of the state education board has stated that a low pass rate could leave the exam open to legal challenges about its fairness, and he suggested that a legally defensible pass rate would be above 90%!
I have a suggestion: the parents should sue the public school system for its complete failure to honor its contract to educate the students. For what we have here is the reaping of what California has sowed in its public education policies for the past forty years—constructivist curriculum, whole language reading instruction, and the primacy of the pursuit of Rousseauite self-esteem. The answer is not to back down on standards, defer accountability, and “dumb down” the curriculum, but to tell the truth about the current state of the educational preparation of our children. Then maybe we can really get serious about truly meaningful reforms such as school choice.
More rude awakenings are in store: The No Child Left Behind Act will not be kind to those states that do not meet the “highly qualified teacher” mandate (California is already on notice), and the new SAT college admission test is reportedly much more rigorous and, hopefully, will call further attention to the deficiencies of many more public schools, including rampant grade inflation and the huge disconnect between K-12 and higher education. And in Texas, the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test will be in use at the end of this school year, coinciding with the new law limiting social promotion in public schools. Hopefully the State Board of Education will resist the call of many school administrators to set the TAKS passing score at a minimal level so that we can properly assess true student preparedness.
Recently, I agreed to participate in the Texas textbook selection process by reviewing a high school economics textbook. In addition to the overall “value neutral” tenor of the textbook, I was shocked at the lack of depth of discussion of the issues and concepts and the general lack of rigor in the text. The presentation was right out of MTV—lots of color, graphs, charts, sidebars, and flash—like watching an action TV show. Folks, if this is the standard, we have a long way to go. I hope we’re paying close attention to California; it may be instructive for us.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a more egregious example of the tyranny of the majority (the greatest fear of our founders) than the gross violation of the rule of law now unfolding in the U. S. Senate election in New Jersey. As I write, the U. S. Supreme Court has not responded to the Republican appeal, but the damage has been done. Some would compare the case to the Florida fiasco of 2000. I think the New Jersey case is a much worse instance of state court overreach, but I also think that the predicate for the problem was laid in the Florida case when the U. S. Supreme Court failed to use Article I, Sec.4 of the Constitution in its ruling then. This section specifically delegates election authority to state legislatures, not courts or any other branch of state government. If this principle had been affirmed in Bush vs. Gore, the New Jersey court might have been more restrained.
A larger issue here is the complete insolvency of the Democratic Party, and it is manifest everywhere one looks, particularly on the national domestic policy stage—in the perversion of the judicial appointment advise and consent responsibility, in the obstruction of any number of legislative bills that clearly have a Senate majority in deference to a favored few pressure groups from the far left, and in the complete sell-out of the Senate Democratic majority to the plaintiff bar. The protection of this power to obstruct in the absence of viable policy alternatives is the whole point of the duplicity and tyranny in New Jersey. Torricelli’s televised jeremiad upon exiting the Senate race was condescending, presumptuous, narcissistic, and perfectly in character with his party’s leadership.
“A country cannot have open borders and a welfare state. Even less can a country welcome multicultural immigrants whose loyalties reside elsewhere. Open borders for terrorists means a police state for citizens.”