All posts by Sheila

Diversity and Distrust Revisited

Thanks primarily to the wackier GOP candidates for President (okay, that’s virtually all of them), we’re seeing a recurrence of socially divisive arguments about “political correctness,” abortion, religion and immigration–and an elevation, in unfortunate and not-so-veiled forms, of America’s racist impulses.

I was pondering our current unlovely public discourse, with its rejection of “otherness,” when my eyes fell on my bookshelf, and on Stephen Macedo’s 2000 book, Diversity and Distrust. The book was a meditation on the important civic role played by public schools in multi-ethnic societies like ours. I leafed through it to see where I’d highlighted observations (something that’s harder to do on a Kindle app), and I thought I’d share a few of them:

American public schools have been, in many ways, where the tension between diversity and the felt need to promote shared values has played out most dramatically. This institution has, from its inception, been the principal direct public instrument for creating a shared political culture amid religious, racial, ethnic and class diversity.

..some of the the most basic and widely discussed conflicts around public schools have been the consequence of religious opposition to basic civic ideals.

The [common/public school] was meant to pursue a novel set of civic ends: consolidation under public aegises was essential to the institution’s civic agenda.

The proponents of many orthodoxies, especially perhaps integral and totalistic belief systems, will not be happy with educational institutions that include all of the children within a pluralistic community. We cannot pursue shared civic ends without making it harder for the proponents of some moral and religious doctrines to perpetuate their views.

Macedo’s book was a full-throated–and persuasive– defense of the importance of public education in a diverse democratic country.

In Indiana, we’ve turned our backs on the civic mission of the schools, bowing to the demands of those who value particularist dogma, privatization, interest group politics and profits above the need to create and perpetuate a common American culture based upon our particular (and yes, in that sense “exceptional”) historical and legal commitments.

Tea Party Priorities

Evidently, the theatrics–make that “tea” actrics–will not end anytime soon.

You may remember that, in 2011, when he was still in Congress, Mike Pence was an enthusiastic leader of that year’s “defund Planned Parenthood or shut government down” effort. It’s 2015, but in the crazy caucus, only the faces have changed. Last week, Indiana Congressmen Young and Stutzman were among those voting to shut down government.

Despite last week’s passage of a short-term “clean” funding measure to keep government open until December, the zealots are still intent upon shutting down government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded, and a not-insignificant number of them say they’ll refuse to raise the debt ceiling when the time comes. (That, of course, would cause a massive default by the U.S. on its obligations, including such obligations as military pay, social security and medicare.)

Given so many Republicans’ willingness to do it again, you’d think the last shutdown (in 2013, over Obamacare) had been a rousing success for the would-be extortionists. It wasn’t–at least, not in what the rest of us call the “real world.”

Indeed, as the zealots prepare to play yet another game of chicken, twenty thousand federal workers are still suing over the last government shutdown, and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service calculated the economic damage done by that fit of pique:

Federal employees worked 6.6 million fewer hours during the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, according to a recent report, with the loss of productivity resulting in a 0.3 percent loss in economic growth.

In other words, sending more than 850,000 federal employees home without pay for at least part of the shutdown took billions of dollars out of the economy.

Although the ideologues refuse to believe it, most government employees work at jobs that actually need to be done. When those jobs don’t get done, the economy slows, hurting everyone.

None of that matters to the zealots. In order to “defund” Planned Parenthood–that is, in order to keep Medicaid from reimbursing the organization for medical services provided to poor women and men (STD tests, breast cancer screenings, birth control pills, etc.), they’re willing to make poor people poorer. And sicker.

Tea Party “patriots” are willing to ignore the reality that there are no other providers with the capacity and reach to substitute for Planned Parenthood, and that defunding the organization would cut off medical care to millions of Americans.

Poll after poll confirms that most Americans support Planned Parenthood, value its services and don’t want to see it defunded. They also don’t want another government shutdown.

Americans would really like to see a Congress that governs rather than postures, but apparently, that’s too much to ask.


John Boehner and the GOP’s Alternate Reality

There has been no lack of punditry–much of it inane–in the wake of John Boehner’s resignation. But I encountered one of the more thought-provoking analyses at the progressive website Daily Kos. After detailing the gleeful reactions emanating from the more reactionary precincts of what used to be a political party (and is now some sort of cult), and accusations from people like Mike Huckabee to the effect that Boehner had “given the President more power on Obamacare,” the poster ruminated:

After total legislative obstruction, a government shut-down, more than 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, an ensuing presidential election, two Supreme Court lawsuits, and other pending litigation – – Republicans are livid with the belief that John Boehner has worked with the President to strengthen Obamacare.

No sane political observer could think that.  So, what gives?  As Jonathan Chait explains, we are witnessing a sort of collective Republican denial where they cannot accept that they are not the ruling party, not the “deciders” (to use a former president’s phrase):

To understand the pressures that brought about Boehner’s demise as an ideological split badly misconstrues the situation. The small band of right-wing noisemakers in the House who made Boehner’s existence a living hell could not identify any important substantive disagreements with the object of their wrath. . . . The source of the disagreement was tactical, not philosophical. Boehner’s tormentors refused to accept the limits of his political power. . . .

The “crazy caucus” continues to occupy an alternate reality. It exists merely to throw sand in the gears of government, refusing to accept anything less than everything it wants–and increasingly unable even to articulate what “everything it wants” is. (Anyone who has ever parented a cranky two-year-old can recognize the behavior…)

That said, the real problem isn’t that a minor, albeit significant faction of a major party is arguably insane. The real problem is, voters elected them. And non-voters abetted them.

That’s what is so frightening to contemplate….


Jeb! and “Earned Success”

Here we go again.

At a recent campaign event in South Carolina, Jeb Bush was asked how he planned to include black people in his campaign and how he would appeal to black voters.

Bush responded, “Our message is one of hope and aspiration.” But–as Charles Blow noted in a recent column in the New York Times— he didn’t stop there. He continued: “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

Shades of Mitch Romney, his “makers” and “takers” and 47 percenters!

As Blow noted, this was not one of the unforced errors we’ve come to expect from “Jeb!” (And I thought he was supposed to be the smart one…)

And this is not some one-time slip of the tongue for Bush. In Bush’s book written two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” he wrote: “Since the 1960s, the politics of victimization has steadily intensified. Being a victim gives rise to certain entitlements, benefits, and preferences in society. The surest way to get something in today’s society is to elevate one’s status to that of the oppressed. Many of the modern victim movements — the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, the black empowerment movement — have attempted to get people to view themselves as part of a smaller group deserving of something from society. It is a major deviation from the society envisioned by Martin Luther King, who would have had people judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin — or sexual preference or gender or ethnicity.”

What is it about privileged people that makes it so difficult for them to look at their fellow humans and see fellow humans? What makes them unable to see the systemic issues–economic downturns, jobs paying less than living wages, overt and structural discrimination–that disadvantage some people?

What is it about less fortunate people that elicits these sneering, patronizing stereotypes, rather than efforts to understand–let alone remedy–those systemic constraints?

What special kind of cluelessness makes a man born to wealth and privilege consider his own condition “earned success” that anyone might achieve?

Democratic Heresies

My husband and I have had a long-running argument about primary elections. (Hey–you argue with your spouse about whatever is important in your house, and we nerds will argue about what preoccupies us…)

My husband insists that primaries have contributed mightily to political polarization. It’s unarguable that the people who turn out for primary elections are more partisan and ideological than other voters, and he’s nostalgic for the smoke-filled rooms where party elders chose candidates more likely to appeal to the moderate middle.

My rejoinder has been that more democracy is good, and smoke-filled rooms had their dark side. We just need more competitive primaries, and more people voting in them.

Now, a respected scholar at the Brookings Institution has weighed in…on my husband’s side.

Noting the recent resignation of the Speaker, she writes

John Boehner became Speaker at a point in time when four different reform ideas—all enacted with the best of intentions—interacted in ways that made his job impossible. These are structural and will impede the job of the next Speaker as well.

Primaries. The United States is one of the very few democracies in the world that uses primaries to nominate the members of the legislative branch. That means, for all practical purposes, anyone can become the nominee of a political party simply by declaring, running and winning. It also means that defying the party leader, in this case the Speaker, has very few consequences. While Boehner has been able to strip some of his problem members of committee assignments that has not proven to be a very powerful tool. Unlike leaders in parliamentary parties, Boehner cannot decide to keep someone off the list for bad behavior. And primaries are notoriously low turnout events in which a small group of ideologically motivated voters can control outcomes. Thus it is no wonder that Members of Congress have come to fear being “primaried” more than they fear displeasing the leadership.

She identifies three other “reforms” and their unintended consequences: parties (actually, their loss of power; they have less clout than billionaires with SuperPaks), privacy (which has diminished, taking with it the ability to negotiate in relative confidence), and pork (eliminating the goodies that everyone criticized also eliminated the ability to wheel and deal and actually get stuff done.)

I hate it when my husband turns out to be right….