We Need Fresh Ideas for a New Era of American History

Both conservative republican and liberal democratic tenets of 20th Century America have gradually taken on the characteristics of dogma in that the underlying assumptions of their respective conventional wisdoms are rarely challenged or evaluated for their efficacy.

This is particularly concerning as we move into a new century where the problems we face as a nation, society, and world community are of an unprecedented breadth and scope. The unfortunate reality is that many of the challenges we face as members of an increasingly diverse people in an ever-more-complex new century are the consequence of the choices and policies of both republican and democratic leadership in the 20th Century. Those policies, choices, and ideologies will no longer take us where we need to go.

Most troubling is the emergence of the “tea party movement” that is striving to take us back to a time in America history that is perceived as better; a time when values seemed clearer. The problem, of course, is that the only people for whom that idyllic past was better were non- poor, white Americans. It was a time when white Americans represented the overwhelming majority and when they lived in a world in which they occupied a special place in society. This past is not recalled with the same reverence by black Americans and other minorities or by poor, white Americans.

Interestingly, this cherished past was a time in which blue-collar America, thanks to strong unions, enjoyed a level of economic success at least approaching that of “white collar” middle class Americans. The present day irony is that tea party and other conservative politicians and policy makers are doing their best to emasculate present-day unions as if they somehow pose a threat to the middle class. Why we would ever think that a strong working class able to earn levels of income to provide for their families, contribute to a vibrant economy, and pay their fair share of taxes is a bad thing is difficult to fathom.

The actions and policies of conservative politicians and policy makers seem to be driven by an equal resentment of the interests of African-Americans; other minorities; new immigrants, illegal or not; Muslim-Americans; gay and lesbians; and any other population of human beings who are perceived as different.

The unalterable fact is that African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and other groups as defined by race, color, creed, faith, or sexual preferences represent one of the two fastest growing segments of our population and will soon replace white Americans as the majority. The needs of these growing segments of the American population, simply stated, cannot be ignored or otherwise abused without placing our entire society at risk.

What conservative Americans do not seem to comprehend is that the more the interests of these “other” Americans are left unattended, the more likely they will be to rise up and begin exercising their right to vote. Given that these groups, in the aggregate, will represent a statistical majority, such an eventuality will bring the conservative agenda to an abrupt but judicious end. We can only hope that the traditional liberal agenda will also be laid to rest.

We have not even addressed the issues involving the other fastest growing population of Americans made up of baby-boomers who are joining the ranks of the retired; a group whose political clout will also mushroom.

The best hope for preserving our liberty and providing a safe and affluent future for our children and grandchildren is through leadership that embraces our diversity and engages all Americans in the quest for new and innovative solutions to the challenges of the 21st Century. At present, we are not even seeking new and innovative solutions, much to our great disadvantage.

In my novel, Light and Transient Causes, I show what could happen if we relax our vigilance and abdicate our responsibilities as citizens of a participatory democracy.

Indiana’s Republican Governor and Republican-controlled General Assembly have Lost Their Way!

How ironic is it that both conservative and moderate republicans who have spent their lifetimes marching to the tune of small government and individual liberty, have so quickly put special interests ahead of the interests of Hoosier voters.

Recently, I suggested that republicans, under the influence of the tea party movement, have abandoned the interests of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” in favor of a strategy designed to pursue their own agendas. Clearly, the well-being of Romney’s “47 percent” no longer matters to those in office; men and women who were elected to represent the interests of all Americans, or in this case, all Hoosiers, not just a select few.

Governor Pence’s overt efforts to undermine the role of Indiana’s elected Superintendent of Public Instruction just because she would not kowtow to his policy initiatives is but one example. Whether through administrative polices, the formation of the Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI), Indiana House Bill 1638, or other miscellaneous shenanigans the Governor and his supporters have waged war against public education, public schools, public school teachers, not to mention public school families, children and their communities.

When he finally dissolved the CECI, ostensibly to eliminate “the friction at the highest levels of government” and “fix what is broken in education in Indiana” the Governor expressed pride in the accomplishment of the CECI. That the most notable accomplishments of the CECI were the creation of “friction at the highest levels of government” and aggravation of “what is broken in education in Indiana” is the apex of irony.

Make no mistake, there are many problems with public education here in Indiana and in states throughout the nation but these are the very things the Superintendent of Public Education, the DOE, and Hoosier educators were working hard to address. Those efforts were sabotaged by the Governor in order to pave way for solutions that were conceived while being shielded from public scrutiny.

The whole principle of accountability of elected officials such as the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and also the Governor, is that the voters have the power to boot them out of office if their performance is unacceptable. The actions of the Governor have been dedicated to the process of removing the responsibility for accountability of selected elected officials from the hands of the voters and place it in the hands of policy-makers whom he has appointed and who are not held accountable by the voters.

A generation ago it would have been considered inconceivable that such actions would be the strategy of choice of conservative republicans.

Unfortunately, the power of Indiana’s current and recent Governors has also been directed at Indiana unions and their memberships through the ironically entitled ”right to work legislation”; and, more recently against the Common Construction Wage Law that guarantees that Hoosier workers in the various construction trades will be paid wages that enable them to provide for their families and pay their fair share of taxes.

Now, the republican leadership in Indiana has turned its attention to passing “religious freedom legislation” that has brought ridicule to our state and that places certain members of our diverse citizenry at risk of discrimination. Should not every citizen be entitled to protection both when they “have been substantially” subjected to discriminatory acts or consider themselves “likely to be substantially” subjected?

In response to public outcry, our governor and state legislators scrambled, this past week, to pass a fix that would placate the opposition. Let the reader understand that this fix does not alter the underlying motivation of Governor Pence and others and it was only passed because republicans were “caught with their hands in the cookie jar.”

Where will it end? Unless the voters of the State of Indiana rise up and hold their elected officials accountable for their self-serving legislation and policy making the ominous chasm that exists between the rich and poor, the fortunate and the unfortunate, and between white citizens and their minority counterparts can only expand.

The saddest truth about this widening trend toward the disenfranchisement of so many of our citizens is that the people who are adversely affected by these actions could boot our elected officials out of office if only they would band together and exercise their right to vote.

Hoosiers are like all other Americans and must be challenged to recognize that the solutions to the problems of 21st Century America cannot be realized through the application of 20th Century thinking, whether conservative or liberal. These new and more complicated social challenges will demand new patterns of thought, fresh insights into the dynamics of 21st Century American society, and a new commitment to American imagination and ingenuity. What we require is exponential thinking of the highest order.

Tea Party Strategies Have Frightening Implications for the Poor and Minorities

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.