Saturday, September 17, 2005

It's time the Democratic leadership stop being the Chamberlins of American Politics

It's time the Democratic leadership stop being the Neville Chamberlains of American Politics.

It’s time to stop a policy of appeasement, it’s time to play poker, it’s time to have courage.

Gary Hart sounded the call to arms August 24, with his piece titled “Who Will Say 'No More'?”, David Mamet not only echoed that sentiment, but further put forth the issue and problem. The Democrats have no courage, and for that the Republicans have been bullish in getting their agenda accomplished. And sometimes that agenda isn’t always straight forward but gained through misdirection and the backdoor.

I realized the possibility of this two or three years ago when “No Child Left Behind” was signed. Sure I reasoned, this was in answer to parents complaints to accountability and failing schools. But with a majority of states taking a strong stand and imposing their competency tests, why did the federal government need to step in like a 500 lbs gorilla and sit itself right down in the middle of the issue?

It defied everything conservatives said they believed about the roll of the federal government. They wanted less, not more. They wanted to do away with the Dept Education, not give it more power. This was a state issue, and the states were handling it. It didn’t make sense.

It also didn’t make sense because the emphasis on testing and the funds provided contingent on performance insured that teachers would abandon true, flexible and inspired teaching and only teach for the test. This is not only unethical (but a necessary sin because of the pressure) but it truly hurts children.

I disliked “No Child Left Behind” from the start saying on many, many occasions that it was actually leaving more children behind. In private conversations as well as some very public ones with friends, colleagues and publishers in education, all expressed the same consternation. Yes there have been some very public comments from teachers and administrators in love with NCLB, but that’s not what I heard in private.

In my wilder moments I allowed myself to wonder if this weren’t a back door attempt to end the Department of Education.

Fast forward to today.

I decided to begin checking out the AARP blog and messages boards to see what the buzz was there. If they had heard the president’s speech and Friday’s announcement about not raising taxes, then they know what’s coming. I have read a lot of good debate.

In the midst of all that I read conservatives basically dancing with glee over FEMA’s failure. They feel that FEMA had become and entitlement program and that it was intentionally gutted to end it. They seemed to be overjoyed that the people who expected “handouts” from FEMA, got none and now have to depend on themselves.

I didn’t read conservative blogs but my guess it that it rings the same. The point is, that if they feel so bold now as to basically say the gutting is an intentional part of ending these agencies and department then they know these back door guttings are working. I don’t think there is a conservative who felt teary eyed or ashamed by anyone saying “we can’t depend on the government in a time of crisis.” It’s exactly what they want to hear, they want state, local and faith based to handle all of this (actually I think they want the state out of it too, but it begs the question of how these governments and organizations are expected to have enough tents, MREs, medicine etc. and if they are supposed keep a fleet of helicopters, C-130s, high axeled (military) trucks and humvees to get the supplies to the affected areas. There are some things that only the federal government can do)

The federal government as cavalry, who will protect and rescue it’s citizens, is now questioned by the general public. More now believe that they cannot trust their government and must do this all themselves (seriously, I have thought how I would anchor down a cache of canned goods to keep them from being washed into the ocean during a storm surge or tidal wave (there is a possible one from a land slide off the Canary Islands), and the conservatives couldn’t be more happy. The more people cease to believe that FEMA is effective and an agency they can count on, the more irrelevant it becomes, the easier it is to kill.

No, the Republicans didn’t create 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, but they know how to use them. They know how to raise the ante and seize the initiative. And then like a magician with slight of hand redirect attention so you don’t see exactly what they are doing (like accusing Democrats of politicizing an issue, disaster, etc.).

Now let’s go back to NCLB. Forty-five states are now in open revolt of NCLB; Connecticut is suing and many are saying forget it, they won’t be subject to the draconian testing any more and will do without the money. Schools systems are choosing not to rely on the federal government due to this program. The more schools turn their back on the Department of Education, the more irrelevant it becomes, the easier it is to kill.

Everyone thinks that 45 states in open revolt to NCLB, and the Dept. of Education is a bad thing, “oh what’s the federal government to do?” But the conservatives couldn’t be more happy. It’s exactly what they want, and agency made so hard to deal with, some of it because it's demands are in place and mandated but the funding for those demands is not there, that it’s better to go it alone. Voila, conservatives win!

We now have a huge natural disaster. Given how the Republicans used 9-11 to weaken federal agencies (something conservatives openly admit), and that President Bush says that he will not raise taxes but will cut spending, what other programs and departments will the they gut and make irreclvant? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, finish off the EPA, housing, health and what ever else their dead* constitution doesn’t deal with. If Democrats don’t find some courage soon, if they don’t start ignoring the empty charges of politicizing, and stop engaging in placating, being little Neville Chamberlains, they will loose, we will loose our children will loose.

No party should be in control of both the legislative and administrative branches of the federal government. Our government was set up to have two party antagonism as a way of making sure the checks and balances work. But how can you have that if one party rules all? George Bush and the neo-cons have been steadily working on a Republican hegemony for the next 20 to 30 years.

The Democrats are supposed to be the opposition party to the Republicans (though if Dr. Dentene would finally get his butt over here and post he will argue that they too have been bought off by cooperate interest) but they have been AWOL (so too has the fourth estate). We need a hero and while Nader tries, the reality is that we are not a parliamentary system, we are a two party system and a third candidate just dilutes the possibility of the antagonist system working to the best of it ability.

The democrats have been hobbled by a vacuum of leadership when Clinton left the white house (the Republicans predicted that, by the way). Now they need to stand up, speak out, have conviction and courage, and most of all be leaders.

God knows the Republicans and the religious right are growing, educating, grooming and working on having a lineage of real leaders for the next 20 to 30 years. They don’t want a vacuum – for the opposition to truly be the opposition and the alternative voice and party, they must step up to the plate. They must be leaders. They must be heroes.

*Dead as opposed to the living constitution the liberals believe in.

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I'm adding this so disclaimer so that some wing nut doesn't say that I'm calling the Republicans Nazis. I'm not. I'm merely using the comparison to Neville Chamberlain to illustrate a policy of appeasement, that is all.

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