Every American leader with any sphere of influence in whatever walk of life should see the recent ABC television report by John Stossel entitled “Stupid in America”, a scathing expose of the irrational perversity that is so deeply imbedded in the American public school system and the severe damage that this archaic culture and delivery system are doing to our children and our future.As I watched this report, I was immediately struck by the timing of it, coming as it did within days of two related events—the veto by Wisconsin’s governor of a bill that would have expanded the cap on the availability of slots in Milwaukee’s fifteen-year old, very successful school voucher program and the decision by the Florida Supreme Court striking down that state’s successful six-year old voucher program after a teacher union-led lawsuit. It occurred to me that, added to the historical absence of credibility of the age-old arguments by the protectionist interests against market-based/competitive education reform, with these two events this crowd has now reached the pure obstructionist threshold without an ounce of merit in their case, proving without doubt that their worst fear and perceived threat is the very success of such innovations, which belies any argument that they have the best interests of children at heart.
I have long maintained that, for all our strides in accountability and standards based education reform over the past decade, the easier phases of reform are behind us, because the next, much more difficult phase will require major adjustments in adult behavior in the forms of transformation of human resource management and the introduction of fully competitive delivery systems, both of which are anathema to the vested interests. These steps will not happen without serious political pain, and until our political and business leadership elites are fully committed to the confrontation with these interests and the pain of real accountability, we have no hope of getting to the next level of reform and our children who are most vulnerable and at-risk will continue to bear the brunt of this abdication of responsibility.
Last month I argued for making good use of the Senate confirmation hearings of now Justice Samuel Alito as a “teaching moment” that would take to the country the real jurisprudential issues underlying the judicial confirmation process. We didn’t get this; what we had instead was an embarrassment to the country and a disservice to the American people and to the institution of the U. S. Senate, in spite of the eventual confirmation of a good man, who clearly demonstrated that he is in every respect a huge cut above his adversarial interrogators.So the debate we need was again postponed. However, in the process, a considerable amount of written opinion was distributed around the public square, some of it very instructive. One particularly good piece, written by U. S. Fifth Circuit Court Judge Harold DeMoss, Jr. in The Houston Chronicle, hit upon the thread that has for at least twenty years run through every judicial confirmation and, in my estimation, has also been a primary underlying contamination of the civil order that has plagued the body politic in general—the concept of the right of privacy. The finding of a generalized, unenumerated “right of privacy” was first recognized by the Supreme Court in the case of Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1965, and was located, according to that now famous phrase, “in the penumbras of the emanations” of the Bill of Rights. This dubious finding, of course, ultimately formed the basis for the discovery of the right to abortion in Roe vs. Wade eight years later. Judge DeMoss has an interesting proposition—to settle this corrupting issue once and for all and return to the rightful source of amendments to enumerated rights, take it to the ultimate authority that is the basis for constitutional law: we, the people, in a national referendum called by Congress and placed on the ballot in the November election. Only then can we halt this usurpation of the authority to amend our constitution.
This proposal is very unlikely to be implemented, but we may have no peace in the public square or hope for a return to civility in our partisan political deliberations until we excise this issue from its corrupting influence on the process at every level.
The recent tribulations and mea culpa of Oprah Winfrey over her endorsement of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, a book of fabrications sold as a true story of triumph and redemption, brought together for me several strands related to the current state of truth and objectivity in our culture. For example, the movie “Munich”, Steven Spielberg’s account of the events leading up to the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games. I haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to, because I am persuaded by a number of in-depth reviews that it is fiction with a political twist masquerading as history. Spielberg could have done better, and has (think of “Schindler’s List”), but he obviously chose to make a political statement involving the moral equivalency of the basis for the Palestinian plot that led the murderers to the heinous deed. No surprise here when one considers that the co-author of the screenplay is Tony Kushner, who has written and is known to believe such mythology as that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were innocent of spying for the Soviets and were “murdered, basically”. He and E. L. Doctorow, the author of The Book of Daniel, supposedly loosely based on the Rosenbergs, have made joint public appearances challenging the Rosenberg guilty verdict as a product of “a Puritan, punitive civil religion” and Cold War paranoia.There are any number of other examples, but my point is that we are constantly presented with works that, when truly exposed, really seem to be designed to offer and impose on us a kind of cultural therapy, as though we need to have our values reworked and our history restated and cleansed of all their prejudices and other baggage of our “oppressive” nature. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as truth in advertising is practiced with all of this historical fiction and public therapy. As suggested by Joseph Rago in a perceptive editorial, “when the aesthetics are pointless bathos and the opinions are the whole point, politics ought to be taken into account”, and I would add that a disclaimer should be clearly in view of the consumer. At some point, however, we need to get to the root of our disconnect from truth in labeling, which will be almost impossible until we engage in some serious repair of the main fount of our postmodern shaping of truth for political purposes—our institutions of higher education, particularly the elite colleges of liberal arts and journalism. As for Oprah’s eventually coming around to her public mea culpa and dressing down of Frey, good for her. We need more of that humility and commitment to truth from those who occupy large public pulpits. I want to believe she reversed herself for the right reasons.
“We’re going to find out whether Republicans have an appetite for a substantial reform agenda against pork spending, out of control budgets, and deal-making politics in this town”.—Rep. John Shadegg, candidate for House Majority Leader.Well, maybe we just did, because as I write, Shadegg, the most aggressive change agent and spending reformer in the race to replace Tom Delay, has lost his bid to John Boehner of Ohio, one who seems more of a business as usual and incremental reformer. Time will tell what this means, but only a short time, because unless the Republicans return to some semblance of the revolutionary Gingrich-led “spirit of 1994” very soon, they may kiss their majority goodbye.
The Abramoff affair is not primarily about lobby reform; it’s about correcting the worst abuses of the corruption of power that arise from the protection of the majority political class. More importantly, it is about the inherent corruption of big government itself, which, at today’s levels of intrusion in the lives and welfare of Americans, makes rent-seekers of even the most virtuous of our citizens. And it starts at the top. For all of President Bush’s virtues, spending restraint isn’t one of them, and his so-called “strong government conservatism” is as much an oxymoron as his “compassionate conservatism” is a redundancy. After all, he is still the only President since John Quincy Adams never to have vetoed a bill, and parts of his State of the Union messages, on the domestic side, are beginning to sound more and more like a blueprint for the Great Society of the 21st century. If could have asked for one addition to this year’s speech, it would have been the demand that Congress end, not mend, the destructive system of so-called “earmarks”, along with the commitment to veto any bill that includes them. There is more to it than that, but it is central to the problem and would have been a good start and a hopeful message for this election year. Good luck, Congressman Boehner.