Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 - A Defining Year for the Tea Party Movement

2010 was the year that the Tea Party Movement flexed its political muscles.

It has been almost forgotten, but the Tea Party erupted as a rebellion against Republican policies in late 2008. Later adopting its name from the “Santelli Rant”, it gathered steam in 2009, turning its sights onto the Democrats. Within a year of Obama’s inauguration, a series of public Tea Party demonstrations culminated in 9/12/09, NJ and Virginia had replaced Democratic governors with Republicans, and Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat was also captured by a Republican.

The rebellion continued with the 2010 mid-term elections, as the Tea Party propelled Republicans into control of the House of Representatives and a larger minority in the Senate. The vote was primarily anti-Democrat, not pro-Republican. The Republican wave was largely the voice of the Tea Party expressing itself. As I’ve said before, the movement is driven by and for independent-minded people. Going into 2011, the Republicans would do well to remember this.

The big political lesson to be learned from 2010 is that the Tea Party is a force to be reckoned with. How big and effective a force depends, of course, on what set of philosophical principles it coalesces around. Groups ranging from religious conservatives to libertarians to economic conservatives to pro-individual rights Ayn Randers are vying to define those principles. Which of those competing ideological factions takes hold will determine the movement’s fate, longer term.

The big story of 2010 has a corollary – an end to aggressive Obama statism. His forward momentum has likely been stopped, and he and the Democrats will now have to spend their time protecting and consolidating their horrifying big government gains. Far from being a setback, however, this strategy of enact and hold has served their statist agenda quite well, thank you. As I previously wrote, the 2009-10 time period parallels 1965-66, politically. The massive welfare state gains made then were held and even built upon in the ensuing decades, despite 1967’s GOP wave, as they awaited the next chance at one-party legislative control. That chance emerged these past two years.

So, stopping Obama is not the primary goal and will not signal victory, any more than stopping President Johnson in 1967 signaled victory over statism. It is only a start.

Looking forward, 2011 could turn out to be a defining year for the Tea Party. Will it begin to forge specific principles regarding man’s rights, the Constitution, and the proper role of government and its relationship to the people? Will it be co-opted by “Right” wing statism, the authoritarian Religious Conservatives? Will it remain too ideologically diverse to present a meaningfully anti-statist force? Will it be able to initiate a process of repeal and roll-back of statism? The Right remains in ideological flux. As long as that’s the case, statism will be the ultimate winner.

The Tea Party has earned its stripes as a political force. Now, the really hard part begins. It needs to hold the Republican Party’s feet to the fire, after leading it to victory in the recent elections. More importantly, it must cast off the moderate, bi-partisan, compromising fog permeating what today passes for the Right, and take a bold stand on the principles implicit in the movement’s rallying cry, Don’t Tread on Me!

That’s the big challenge. We can not afford a repeat of 1967, when the GOP merely stalled the statist advance. It did not have the philosophical firepower to do anything else. And make no mistake, the battle is philosophical. Politics is secondary, and is merely a reflection of the dominant cultural ideas. The dominant philosophical ideas – in particular, the moral ideas – continues to favor statism and omnipotent government, even though their cultural hold is beginning to weaken. There’s a lot of intellectual work to be done.

Without the proper foundational ideas on the Right, the statists will consolidate their gains under the noses of the Republicans. The last two years of aggressive Obama statism was no surprise, except perhaps for it virulence. The statists have been winning for more than 100 years. Will the forces of freedom be able to finally mount an effective counter-force? 2011 will begin to provide an answer.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Obama's "North Star"

On October 6, 2010, I wrote:

the Dems have been far more consistent - read, extreme - in cleaving to their collectivist “ideological purity”. Socialism has had a loud voice in the Democratic Party, but capitalism has yet to find its political voice. The two ideological extremes are the primary combatants. The Left knows it. The Right doesn’t. The result: The political "middle" keeps moving Left.

Socialism, not surprisingly, is winning.

This was demonstrated once again in the recent tax deal
between the resurgent Republicans and President Obama.

President Obama’s recent tax compromise with the Republicans – extending all of the Bush tax cuts for two years coupled with a 13 month extension of unemployment benefits, among other things – infuriated his Left/liberal base like Move

More thoughtful Leftist supporters like Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne did recognize that the deal gained more for Obama than many others believed. But he, too, was disturbed by Obama’s slap at his liberal base (Casting liberal allies aside will hurt Obama in the long run
. Citing the president’s description of liberal critics as “sanctimonious”, Dionne writes:

Obama's comments make you wonder: Whom does he think he can count on when conservatives try to repeal the health-care law, force cuts in programs he supports, investigate his administration down to the last pencil and continue to denounce him as an un-American socialist?

Dionne believes that “In the short term, Obama did get more than most liberals expected.” He goes on to describe those liberal gains in the tax deal and how it “achieves many progressive goals. “But”, he asks:

…in the long run, is Obama capable of winning the battles with the Republicans that this temporary agreement sets up?

Mr. Dionne is skeptical, but he appears to have missed something important. This is surprising to me, since I consider him one of the political scene's most astute observers – albeit from the Leftist side of the ideological divide. The GOP leadership may or may not have won tactically, but Obama presented a philosophical challenge that went unanswered. Simply listen to his “North Star” speech in response to a reporter’s question relating to his “core values”.

In his answer, Obama laid out clearly the nature of the political battle as he sees it. He made clear his belief in abstract ideals as a guiding “North Star” in determining the political direction of a country. He presented several analogies to make the point. This country’s Founding, he said, included a political compromise that would not have permitted him to “go through the front door” – clearly referring to the acceptance of slavery in defiance of the Declaration’s stated ideals – ideals that eventually would eradicate slavery. He also pointed to Social Security and Medicare, which “started out small, and grew”.

Obama’s referral to “the public option debate all over again” seemed like a confusing throw-in to many. But, seen from its proper perspective, which Obama articulated quite clearly, this analogy is not puzzling at all. He makes the pertinent point: The ObamaCare bill, even without the public option, advances the goal toward universal … i.e., socialized … healthcare – a “dream of Democrats for 100 years”. Obama “tacked this way or that”, but never lost his focus on that North Star.

Despite his rhetoric for the need to avoid “purist” abstract arguments in order to “get things done”, Obama clearly understands the value of abstract ideals to making concrete progress toward that North Star. Only one other president in my lifetime matches Obama’s philosophical acumen – Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s North Star was individualism. It served him well, for a time. Obama’s is collectivism. It continues to serve the Left well, even if they can’t see it. Since only the Democrats have cleaved consistently to their North Star in the abstract, the past hundred years has seen a steady drift toward collectivism’s political manifestation, socialism – despite numerous compromises and backing and filling. Obama’s first two years has seen a continuation – indeed an acceleration – of that trend. (For an in depth discussion, see my post of 10/6/10, “Extremists vs. the Moderates: Why the Left Keeps Winning, and the Right has been Powerless to Stop It”.)

Contrast the Republican take on the tax cut deal. They presented no North Star. They made some valid utilitarian arguments, but avoided any reference to core principles like free markets, the moral right to one’s earnings, individual rights. Much to my dismay, though not surprisingly, Obama seized the philosophical high ground for the Left, even though his Left base is too clueless to see it. He seized it, in typical fashion, by default. What this country needs is a knock down, no-holds-barred, polarizing ideological fight between the two extremes – collectivism and individualism. Collectivism has its voice in the White House. Individualism has no political voice (although culturally, it’s manifested implicitly in the Tea Party Movement).

Details of the tax compromise aside, Obama reaffirmed an unwavering commitment to his long-term goals. Sanctimony and purism was clearly on display, if one knows where to look. Obama won round one where it counts the most – on the philosophical battleground. This does not bode well for freedom lovers. But with the Tea Party roiling the waters, there is still hope.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Education: It’s the Philosophy, Stupid!

For decades we’ve been hearing about the need for improving our mediocre public schools. We’ve gotten reform after reform imposed by central planners at the behest of vote-seeking politicians, and still we have failing schools. (See my 9/24/10 post, “Toward Real School Reform”.) And still, we get staunch defenders of the status quo.

The author of a recent NJ Star-Ledger article, Bob Braun, has a new rationalization to add to the grab bag of the status quo’s defenders – he claims that the reforms weren’t given enough time to work:

We have lost patience. … We ricochet from policy to policy, never waiting to see what works. Impose a set of standards, a set of tests, a set of curriculum guides, then change it all in a few years.

Braun goes on to quote Joseph DePierro, dean of the Seton Hall College of Education, who laments that “Every decade or so, a new crisis and we change things around”. Keep in mind we’re talking about children going through the crucial primary and secondary school years, for whom every year of lost learning time is a devastating, permanent loss of individual human potential. Yet, a few years, or a decade or so, is not enough time to decide if the latest reform “works”. In fact less patience – a lot less patience – is desperately needed. And that impatience should be directed at the very institution that reactionary apologists like Bob Braun keep trying to defend – the government-run public schools.

What Braun and other public school apologists don’t get is that it is not a matter of “lost patience”. Even if a workable, coherent educational model can be found, it can only last until the next man with a plan comes along. That is because there is an inherent contradiction in any kind of public ownership. The public schools are owned, in theory, by everyone and no one – at the same time. Unlike private owners - who are free to implement an education model, and then answer only to the parents of the children in their schools - public school reformers must be accountable to whatever pressures emanate from whichever groups of owners emerge from that vast reservoir of ownership, the public. He must first seize political power, then impose his reform plan. But, once in place, it is only good until the next reformer comes along, seizes political power, and enforces his ideas. Worse, it is in the nature of “democracy” that ideas get watered down by compromises needed to satisfy all of the disparate special interests that are always milling around any public enterprise. This is a roiling, never-ending process.

Modern school “reformers”, however, all have one thing in common: They are essentially central planners. By the nature of the beast, they have to be. They consist of politicians, education departments, special interest groups, college professors – the “experts”. They all have a plan - to be, as Braun correctly puts it, imposed across the board - on all students, teachers, parents, principals, superintendents - in all schools in some district, state, or even the entire country. They bring about their “reforms”, and then sit back and wait for bean counters to scour the latest statistical data to determine if it is “working”. They see children, but not the actual child.

And that’s the problem. The whole collectivist model has to be called into question. Children are literally seen as a student body, moving through a system in lock step, as if each child is interchangeable. They are not, and there is some recognition of that. So, the solution: break the body down into smaller groups - special needs, gifted and talented, “average”, etc. The student is still identified, not as an individual, but according to his particular grouping. But each child, in a very basic sense, is special needs. Each has his own required pace of development, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and interests. Each, as Maria Montessori discovered long ago, needs a high degree of autonomy and privacy as he develops his mind. Tailoring the education model to the group, rather than to the needs of each child as an individual – which is, metaphysically, what he is – may be convenient for the adults operating within the present establishment. But, it does not meet the needs of the child - each as his own nature requires - except by random accident.

I submit that a properly structured educational mission should strive to produce graduates who have learned how to think independently, to employ the full power of their reasoning capacity, so as to enter adulthood with the unclouded confidence, self-esteem, and motivation to build a life by their own effort. But, preparing the child for the task of living his life as an individual is not the goal of today’s government educators – preparing them for obedience to the authority of others, is. As Braun explains it:

Public schooling is a value as well as an institution. Fostering a democratic, egalitarian America. Reject that value and you change the country in unknowable, maybe dangerous, ways.

Everything that is wrong with American education is embodied in those few words.

Democracy is the subordination of the individual to the majority, which – through the state - has unlimited power to do as it pleases. Egalitarianism holds that human beings are interchangeable components of a human ant colony, which reigns supreme. Both are fundamentally collectivist, and opposed to the American view of people as sovereign individuals possessing unalienable rights to manage their own lives. Progressive education has a hammerlock on education, and it has one overriding goal – to foster conformity to the group, or “social adjustment”, which is exactly what democracy and egalitarianism require.

To call that a value is to subvert the very concept of “value”. The purpose of education, fundamentally, is to train the child’s mind to deal with reality – to think, to analyze, to understand, to acquire and integrate knowledge. A value, as philosopher Ayn Rand has observed, “is that which one acts to gain and/or keep”. Living is fundamentally about achieving the values that make for a flourishing life, and preparing the child for value achievement is an educator’s proper goal. Democracy requires that one give up one’s highest value – the source of all of one’s values, one’s independent judgement – to the will of the majority. Egalitarianism, as it is understood today, requires that values be held equally by all, regardless of individual personal character, effort, or ability. Human beings are metaphysically autonomous beings, but egalitarianism rebels against nature, striving to make them homogenous. That is why the independent mind is what democracy and egalitarianism abhor: The person who does his own thinking doesn’t readily submit to the will of any collective pack, or renounce his other values on the alter of pack “equality” – or to the pack’s rulers.

The missing ingredient in the whole school reform discussion is consideration of education philosophy. While, as stated above, reform plans will constantly come and go, the overriding philosophy governing education is determined by the dominant cultural ideas, which is determined by the dominant ideas held by the intellectuals, which is overwhelmingly collectivist. That is what needs to be addressed. Failing schools are not caused by poverty, or lack of money – not @ $26Gs per year per student. They do not fail because black kids are not surrounded by enough white kids (what Braun absurdly labels “segregation”). Blaming the students is unjust and perverse. The problem is bad educational philosophy. Autonomous individual students, each with his own unique needs, strengths, and interests, can not be pushed robot-like through a school assembly line. Don’t think for yourself, conform to the mob is a prescription for boredom and failure, envy and resentment, fear and power-lust – and the killing of personal motivation.

The opposite of Progressive Education can be summed up nicely in the words of education researcher and entrepreneur Maria Montessori, who sought to give every child a chance to “become as powerful in their concentration, as independent of spirit, as strong of will and as clear of thought as the world’s greatest geniuses” (as quoted by Beatrice Hessen, page 847). Can you see a school establishment dedicated to “Fostering a democratic, egalitarian America” churning out such graduates? But, that philosophy and similar alternatives have almost no chance to break the progressive stranglehold – not as long as progressive intellectuals, through the government, have a stranglehold on education.

The whole education model needs to be re-examined, otherwise Mark Zuckerberg’s millions will disappear down an establishment rat hole. (As reported by Braun, Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, agreed to donate $100 million to the Newark, NJ, public schools.) Government-run schooling has had its day, and has failed. The Progressive stranglehold must be broken. The public school quasi-monopoly must be phased out and dismantled, and a free market established in education. Start by converting the $100 million gift into student scholarship grants to be used on the school of the parents’ choice. Then, follow that with universal parental school choice through tax credits, where the parents’ tax money follows the student to the school of choice. These reforms will establish the groundwork for an eventual free market that will liberate the children from the clutches of progressive central planners, and empower the parents - who know their own children’s educational strengths, weaknesses, and needs - to set their children’s educational course. A free market will open the school doors to a badly needed philosophical revolution in education, and the one kind of “diversity” that the progressives have always feared – a diversity of ideas. Not all ideas would be good, but all ideas would get a chance, and the free market will allow the best philosophies to prove themselves and win.

The “change” will be “unknowable” and “dangerous” only to the utopians that have never given up the dream of presiding over a compliant, orderly human ant colony. It’s time for real school reform.