During the 2012 presidential election campaign, Governor Mitt Romney’s remark about the “47 percent of Americans” not counting was intended to convey a shift in thinking that is at the center of the political strategies of the “Tea Party movement” and other conservative republicans.
What Romney meant was that many of the American’s who make up that 47 percent will not vote and those who do vote will not be voting for republicans. The resulting ideology that seems to guide much of today’s conservative political strategy is based on the idea that they cannot do anything to change the thinking of the 47 percent so they will stop trying.
Instead, their focus has become the pursuit of policies that they feel are in the best interests of the country without respect to the interests of the 47 percent. It is comparable to the isolationist point of view of American leaders of an earlier era that they will take care of Americans and let the rest of the world take care of itself. In this case, “the rest of the world” is the “47 percent.”
If we closely examine the policy initiatives of conservatives in both business and government, the theme is woven throughout with bright red, white, and blue threads.
The rabid opposition to “Obamacare” is but one example. In fact the term “Obamacare” and its root “Obama” have become a pejorative terms comparable to “Communist” and “socialist.” How often, when they can think of nothing intelligent to say about the opposition, do you see conservative political ads portray opposing candidate as an “Obamacare” supporters? With Pavlovian consistency, the typical response on the part of conservative Americans is that their minds shut down and they no longer listen to what the other side has to say.
I would be first to tell you that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is a bad law but at least it was motivated by a sincere desire, on the part of its advocates, to address the national travesty that was and still is the American health care system. The proponents of healthcare reform might have been able to come with a workable solution to the problems of healthcare in America had the people on the other side of the political DMZ been willing to roll up their sleeves and help. The Affordable Care Act is as much a result of the intransigence of conservatives as it is the convoluted logic of its proponents.
The nation-wide attack on public education, public schools, and public school teachers—with our Hoosier state in the forefront—is another of the frightening examples of the strategic mindset on the part of Tea Party and other conservative leaders. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to cling to the hope that traditional republicans want what is best for all Americans, not just an elite minority.
Government and corporate reforms of public education focus on blaming teachers and our most challenged urban schools for the problems in education. As I have noted on many occasions, this is like blaming our men and women in uniform for the wars our government asks them to fight.
This conservative strategy, as terrifying as it is unspoken, is to attack our most challenged public schools and their teachers with a focus on standardized testing to hold them accountable. Then, rather than use the information gleaned from test results to address the real reasons why so many children are failing, they use the results to seek closure of urban schools and seize control of those schools from the communities.
Incidentally, using standardized test results to show that some schools are struggling is no more sophisticated and scientific than using a thermometer to determine that January is colder than July. To continue the metaphor, rather than use the findings to figure out ways to make the best of the cold, Governor Pence and his reformers use the findings to justify escaping to Florida for the winter months, leaving the rest of the population to shiver.
In the battle over public education the strategy of choice for reformers is two-pronged. With the right hand, they encourage the creation of more charter schools and then incent families to abandon their community public schools through the use of voucher programs. With their left hand they are stripping our urban public schools of the resources they need to teach their students and they are weakening the ability of local citizens to stand up for their schools. The underlying theme is, “let’s take care of our own and let the figurative 47 percent of the population fend for themselves.” These strategies are having a devastating effect not just on urban public school corporations and their teachers but also on our children and our communities.
Here in Indiana, we have a strong conservative governor who is intent on undermining the will of the people by stripping the Indiana Department of Public Education and its duly elected superintendent of their power to attend to the needs of every school, every teacher, and every student in Indiana. It seems almost incomprehensible to imagine that a conservative republican governor would so willfully usurp the will of 1.3 million Hoosier voters. It is also incomprehensible that most Hoosiers appear unable to recognize what is happening.
The most recent iteration of this “strategy of abandonment” was the creation of “Just IN.” This innovative creation was intended to empower our governor to use public funds to control the flow of information to Hoosier citizens. So much for the conservative mantra of protecting the citizenry from big government.
If all of this was not so tragic it would almost be exciting to see what these “self-proclaimed saviors of America” will come up with, next.
Fortunately, in the face of the public uproar, Governor Pence was quick to back down on his “Just IN” proposal. Supporters of public education and members of ethnically diverse urban communities throughout America need to take a lesson from this latest outcome. If supporters of public education stand united, there is hope that we can encourage the Governor Pence to cease and desist. Leaders of minority communities and other economically challenged communities must also take heed of Pence’s back down on “Just IN.”
If supporters of public education and the leaders of minority and other economically challenged communities would link arms and stand together they would be a force to be reckoned with. If we can combat the Governor’s attack on freedom of the press, who knows what, standing united, we might accomplish in our fight to restore our state’s commitment to our public schools and their students and teachers.