Daily Archives: October 29, 2003

Iraq Pullout Coming Up?

A couple of quick blog-related points:

1) An article in The Hill about neocon fears that Bush might pull out of Iraq seems to have goosed a couple of the blogoisie, including Josh Marshall, into wondering if there could be anything to it. As Kevin Drum points out, though, there’s been zero sign of any such thought:

I haven’t seen any evidence either in the form of statements or leaks from administration officials or leaks of secret plans for an early withdrawal.

However, he adds that it’s not inconceivable:

Just to make my thoughts crystal clear: it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bushies declared victory and started pulling out early next year. Unlike Bush’s admirers, I view him as a strongly poll-driven man who undertakes only policies that he thinks are widely popular and risk free. If public support for Iraq goes in the tank, I think he’s the kind of person who would indeed cut and run.But that’s just psychoanalysis. I don’t have any evidence that they’re really thinking along these lines.

FWIW, I am not (in case you were wondering) a Bush supporter, and I understand why Kevin would see him that way, but there’s an element to Bush that, it seems to me, over-rides Rove’s poll-obsession: he has consistently, all his life, refused to admit he made a mistake about anything. Kevin and Josh both suggest that he might use the Kissenger Formula (“Declare victory and get out.”) but I doubt that even a Denial Monkey like Junior could see a withdrawl as anything other than a retreat–Viet Nam sits too heavy on his soul as it does on the souls of all neocons. That strategy might be OK for a Democratic war (Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay all advocated it for Kosovo), but no right-wing Republican could see it as anything but an acknowledgement of failure–a failure of will, of which there is no sin so frighteningly awful. Not to mention an electoral blowback which would be more destructive to Pubs than Dems–the Pubs would lose their right-wing engine, which would be (to say the least) profoundly disappointed.

What’s interesting here is that Bush’s Brain (Rove, of course) is totally unconcerned with either policy or political philosophy. His only concern is winning. If he sees the polls continue to drop as the war ramps up (and he probably will), his end-plan to save Junior’s re-election might very well be Kissenger’s dictum; after all, with some smart sales you could hold on to the right–where are they going to go if Lieberman or Clark isn’t the nominee? Dean? Kerry? I don’t bloody think so.

So what could be shaping up is a major disagreement between Bush and his own Brain. To assume, as Marshall and Drum both seem to do, that the Brain would win automatically is to underestimate Junior’s emotional investment in being right and overestimate Karl’s ability to sell the “Victory” meme to a simple-minded President fully indoctrinated into neocon thinking. Even George is going to see through that one.

2) For Political Junkies: Digby at Hullabaloo has an interesting post up about how the Democrats should be more active in framing the election more positively. Scroll down to October 28–“Frame Up”–and read. It’s worth the time.

I have some thoughts on this subject, but I’ll get to them later.

Every Child (And School) Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind law isn’t just an unfunded mandate, it’s a stalking-horse for the school voucher program. The ratings system is designed not to encourage schools to improve but to function as motivation for parents to opt out of the public school system altogether. John Young, opinion page editor for the Waco Tribune-Herald, calls it “…the ultimate consumerist approach, [which] requires that we have ‘failed’ schools, if only a few to get the ball rolling” in an op-ed printed in the AJC, and he’s right. The “reforms” are a trick intended to get parents thinking like consumers; if they’re aren’t happy with some service, they can shop around for something better.

As I pointed out in “The Mythology of Corporate Government (II)”, corporate managers are trained to see everything a govt does as just another market-driven. consumer-oriented product: the Treasury Dept is no different than McDonald’s, the Labor Dept is an extension of the corporate division where lawyers break strikes, and HEW are the consultants a corporation hires to promote “efficiency” by cutting costs. They don’t recognize any other goals or mandates, and the NCLB rules are designed using “objective” measurements that owe more to the ease of measuring than any concept of education as we’d understand the term.

And that’s beginning to be noticed by the very people who sold this travesty to us. Young points out that:

To have the Houston Independent School District rated “unacceptable” is like finding out that Mother Teresa was queen of the craps table.The district has been the graven image of school reform under President Bush with Houston ISD’s former superintendent Rod Paige elevated to patron saint or secretary of education, whichever is closer to heaven.

Now low, low drop-out rates under Paige have proved bogus. HISD is facing six months probation from the Texas Education Agency while its procedures are reviewed.

Oops.

And golly, Mr Paige–the architect of Bush’s NCLB, Texas-version–doesn’t think that’s fair.

The irony now is that Paige’s school district is on notice as a loser, though he pleads that the “unacceptable” rating is a false generalization about a district that does good work. Excellent point, Mr. Paige.

Talk about chickens coming home to roost.

But as good as this editorial is in nailing the problems and repercussions of a totally flawed approach and accurately pinpointing the ultimate aim (pushing vouchers), Mr Young misses the reason that this radical right-wing Admin is pushing voucher programs in the first place.

It isn’t because they work, because they don’t. Practically every place they’ve been tried, vouchers have turned out to be a disaster, not a panacea. Schools aren’t Wal-Marts or GEs and if you attempt to judge them by the same criteria you’re missing the point (which is a little like throwing a basketball at the broad side of a barn door from 4 feet away–and missing it). Vouchers don’t promote better schools, they promote “teaching to the test” and fudging on the numbers, as Mr Young makes clear:

Because those test scores are seen as the end-all by tunnel-visioned policy makers, the demonstrable tendency in Texas has been for teachers to teach the test or for principals to fluff up the numbers by exempting students, just as the Houston ISD fluffed up its drop-out numbers.

So why does the Bush Admin want to promote the use of vouchers in the first place? Mr Young doesn’t say, but I will. Vouchers have only 2 functions as far as conservatives are concerned:

1) They provide a way to skew the system so that public schools will be left with only the poorest students in the poorest districts, everyone else having moved into private schools. Why do they want to encourage such a sea-change? So they will have an excuse to cut funding for those schools and eventually eliminate govt funding for education altogether. The ultraconservatives who control the Bush Admin (including Junior himself) want to do no less than get govt out of the education business, an item that has been high on the far-right wish-list for decades. Vouchers give them the mechanism to do it.

2) But underneath the far-right economic objective is a far-right religious objective: studies show that a lot of the parents who move their kids out of the public schools use the vouchers to place them in religious schools. Quite simply, vouchers are a way of sneaking govt support of religion (almost always the fundamentalist Christian religion) in under the radar and thereby avoiding (they think) the silly restrictions mandated by that obstructionist document the rest of call the “Constitution”. Such a bother. It seems to get in the way every single time they want to do something theocratic, so why not just go around it?

So I guess you could call vouchers a two-fer: with one stroke, you get to dismantle the federal education budget and slip theocracy in the governmental back door. Precedents are important in law: do it once successfully and that improves dramatically your chances for doing it again in other areas. It’s what the Brits call “the thin end of the wedge”: you use it to crack a locked door wide open one small, unnoticeable shove at a time.

Will parents wake up to what’s being done to the Constitution in their names? And if they do, will they be in time to stop it?

I don’t know. What do you think?