If the Bushes Are Liberals Now, Then I Must Be a ... Kumquat?

Categories: Schutze

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Story in The New York Times today talks about the Bush dynasty reclaiming its influence in the Republican Party by championing immigration reform. I have another idea for them, based on their legacy in Dallas: school reform.

But this is grudging, man. Why do I want the Bushes to reclaim anything? I'm bitterly anti-Bush over Iraq. Right? I'm asking myself this. Right? I'm not getting a straight answer from myself.

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Oh, yeah, this is a typical liberal, pro-immigrant, pro-poor-kid kind of a family, right? But what if that is right? Then who am I?

If you drill down to the inner core of the battle over school reform, it really forces all of us to re-examine some of the most deep-rooted of our American political assumptions. Me, for example. I'm a lifelong libtard Democrat product of Roosevelt liberal New Deal parents who saw public education as the backbone of Jacksonian democracy. So I'm on the side of the poor kids, right? And those damned rich Bush Republicans don't give a rat's ass about the poor kids, right?

Mmm. Not too sure about that. In fact, I don't think so. Maybe that's why I can't get a straight answer out of myself about the Bushes.

The basic light bulb, the awakening, the lighting of the torch for what we now call school reform in the nation started in some ways right here in Dallas at the Margaret H. Cone Headstart Center. In speeches about his "No Child Left Behind" program, President George W. Bush often cited the reading program instituted at the Cone Center in South Dallas in the mid-'90s.

Kids came to Cone from tough, violent, bitterly deprived homes and neighborhoods. Before the new program was put in place in 1994, those kids went on to become some of the lowest performing elementary students in the city. After the new program, the Cone kids went on to become some of the highest performing in the school system.

See, there's your basic light bulb. That's what turns the whole liberal/conservative paradigm on its head and in some cases knocks it on its ass.

Who believes in these kids? Liberals? Or conservatives? Let's look, you and me, at a little kid whose mother is a crack whore, who has no father, who lives hungry surrounded by violence and depravity. Which one of us believes that, in spite of the background, we can teach that kid to read, write and do numbers as well as a rich white kid by the end of third grade, thereby turning around his entire subsequent school career, thereby turning around our society? Is that a liberal belief?

I don't think so. In our own battle over school reform here, I see most of my fellow liberals arrayed on the side of poverty-first -- the doctrine that you cannot teach a poverty kid until you cure his poverty. In fact, somehow it's sort of mean and abusive to push a poverty kid through the kind of drill-and-kill rote learning it takes to catch him up with the rich kids who come to kindergarten already "reading-ready."

So, this is easy, right? Cure poverty first. Oh, forgot. Don't know how to cure poverty. OK, forget the whole thing.

Forget. That means forget the more than a million American children born every year into what some education statisticians are now calling the "cradle-to-prison pipeline." And how long do we think we get to forget that? How long can we deal with social cancer by forgetting about it?

Why would we forget it, if we can change it? What do we see, when we look at newborn children? The cradle-to-prison pipeline that is urban public education today is so ruthlessly inescapable, we could go into the maternity wards with a rubber stamp and stamp "PRISON" on the foreheads of those babies. If we can turn that around, and if it doesn't even cost any more, and if we already know how to do it, how can we not do it?

The way the forces have arrayed themselves on the school reform issue here in Dallas should be deeply troubling for liberals. Instead of fighting to turn it around, the kind of people I think of as typical Democrats are allied instead with the public education unions, the political patronage machinery that has governed public school jobs for a half century, and, most unbelievably and immorally, with the public school construction lobby that cares only about bond elections.

We see this going on here right now. You can't even count on black elected leadership to stick up for black kids, if it means giving up control over black middle-class jobs in the school district. That alone has been a major light bulb moment for me.

The ranks of those who have seen the big light bulb, who really believe that even the poorest kids can be taught and their lives turned around, often tend to include moderate Republicans. So, wait a minute. Who's the liberal? In fact, what does that word even mean any more in this context?

The thing I notice about a lot of the backers of education reform, including the ones with money, is that many of them share a characteristic with the Bushes cited in today's Times story. They have an expanded and intimate experience of diversity, sometimes, as with the Bushes, in the form of inter-marriage in their own families.

A woman married to an Israeli told me once about her own experience living in Israel, where she had seen the relatively rapid rate of inter-marriage between native Israelis and immigrants breaking down what had been initially stubborn barriers of bias against recent immigrants. "Once you have shared babies in the backyard," she said, "the bias is over."

Maybe that's some of it here. Maybe the fight over school reform is a response to deeper more intimate forces within us than mere philosophy. Over my head.

But I will say this much, however grudgingly. If the Bushes added education reform to their political mix with immigration reform, then they might help do a hell of a lot more than merely boost the fortunes of the Republican Party -- fortunes I don't especially want to see boosted. They might help force the whole country to re-examine its most basic assumptions about human dignity and human potential, which is where everything should begin.



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60 comments
EastDallasDad
EastDallasDad

We can't even agree on what our children should learn (see the Common Core and C-Scope controversies) much less how we define and measure achievement. I don't doubt that Bush had and has good intentions, but just as his foreign policy positions were corrupted by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others his education policy has been corrupted by education profiteers and testing companies. Exponentially increasing both the number and frequency of standardized tests and using the results as the sole determination of student and school success will do nothing but make a lot of money for the testing companies.

The issue isn't education reform vs.curing poverty. Nor is it reform vs. the status quo. The issue is what purpose do our schools serve and what do we really want our kids to know and be able to do at each grade level?  Once we've answered that we must determine what we measure and how we measure it. Only after those questions are answered can we develop real school reform.

Our education system is broken in many ways, but the reform movement is equally broken. As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Education reform is one part of the solution. Efforts to alleviate the crippling impact of poverty is another. There are no magic bullets. We desperately need both. 

Whaddyaknow
Whaddyaknow

Jim, you're scaring me! First you come on on the side of the big, bad bidness community on education, now you're a Bush fan! It may take you liberals a long time to see the 'big light', but we welcome you with open arms!

BTW, Bush was right on about homelessness too. He created the program that finances SRO's with the same thought you expressed about which to solve first, poverty or educate the kids. Bush felt, with great push back from almost the entire 'Homeless Business' (just look at the number of so-called homeless 'help' organizations here in Dallas and how much $$ they take in, pay themselves and compare the dismal results) that housing should come first. It's been a big success.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

I love watching folks work to make their litmus test labels fit - just listen to the radio shouters or MSNBC or Fox as the Syria issue is twisted to fit the orthodox "liberal" "conservative" definition 

Bush has always struck me as a nice guy well intentioned empty suitpropped up by his  handlers, advisers and family connections.

Americano
Americano

Fifty years ago, Bush would have been a Democrat.

GeorgeB123
GeorgeB123

Jim's essay is excellent. But many of the posts are insane. 

GeorgeB123
GeorgeB123

Jim, Excellent. I don;t have all the answers. But I do know the path we are on has an unhappy ending. 

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

let's see, a coke and booze addled C student ivy legacy, who draft dodges in NG, then dodges his duties there, marries a librarian with a vehicular homicide; he fails to make money in TX oilpatch; or blows it all on booze, till he finds Jesus, or his wife gives him an ultimatum...

makes his fortune off an insider trade, and taxpayer money on a stadium; gets elected governor and prez; starts a phony war; kills thousands; thinks he made no mistakes.

and JS wants to trust him for school reform advice????? Liberal v conservative hasn't squat to do with this - how bout failure v original thinking.

though he does have a sense of humor, just weeks after his speech on 'Faith based initiatives, his CIA shoots down a planeload of American missionaries. i laughed, but somehow I don't think Jesus was amused.

John1073
John1073

If there is anything to remember from the 2000 election was Bush's constant on message saying he was a "compasstionate conservative". We all know that lead to neo-con war monger, but he was consistent in his message. Karl Rove taught him well.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I think it's fair to say that both sides see the problem with education, but see it differently, and both sides have valid points, if few viable solutions.

We're busy arguing the chicken-or-the-egg when we should all be figuring out how to scrap this early 20th century Model-T and build a spaceship.

ruddski
ruddski

When Bush got his dismal poll numbers towards the end of term, lots of liberals seemed to believe it was because most of America had turned liberal, when in fact it was because conservatives considered his policies ridled with liberalism. Hist immigration stance, his Wilsonian urge to "spread democracy" to peoples whose religion forbids it, and some others I forget.

He was as sympathetic and open to liberal wants as any republican can be, but they shat on him.

ruddski
ruddski

First, there were Liberals, who now are relativly conservatives (due to all that God shit and slavery). Then there were progressives, they hated booze & blacks, then they became liberals until they ruined that word, so they became again progressives, albeit with an unwavering commitment to blacks and booze. In the end, they're "leftists", faithful to slightly modified Marxism and criminal, vanishing labor unions, who will vote based on skin color while "fighting racism" by making sure that everyone but them never forgets that they once, probably, owned slaves and rode with the Klan, which at the time were loyal Democrats, who were Progressive, but secretly loved and brewed booze.

Then There's Hillary Clinton, a feminist hero who stood by her man while not baking cookies.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

First, let's stop acting like we have public education.  We have compulsory education, which has an entirely different set of priorities.  Public education has to actually educate, since it is in real competition with private education.  Compulsory education, on the other hand, can spend all its time on indoctrination, since it's "spend money for private school or be left with us." 

There's nothing anti-conservative about teaching kids to read. (Set aside that Laura Bush is a librarian, after all.)  An educated electorate is vital to the success of a republic.  It would have been much more useful if the first amendment had been fashioned like the second (a well educated electorate being vital to the security of a free state, the right to free speech and the press shall not be infringed, etc).  Making it compulsory, however, opens it up to all manner of mischief.

Kids naturally want to learn.  Rich kids, poor kids (even kids with chicken pox!) love to learn.  It is their natural state.  They are made to learn all day, every day.  Think about that.  Kids love to learn like crackheads love crack.  How bad does our educational institution have to be, that after spending a few years in it, kids hate to learn?  That's like a crack dealer having such terrible crack that crackheads say, "you know what?  I don't think I like crack anymore."

Liberal politicians (that's a difference) like poverty programs over reading clubs because there's no room for graft in the reading club.  In fact, reading is in fact dangerous, because kids who start reading have all kinds of crazy ideas, especially black kids.  Instead of saying, "I'm black so I have to vote Democrat", they start having crazy ideas like, 'maybe I'm a libertarian' or 'maybe I'm a green' or 'maybe God doesn't want me to just vote for the candidate who gives my preacher the most money.'

ruddski
ruddski

"...who saw public education as the backbone of Jacksonian democracy"

The loooong decline to expensive failure must be so painful. Try denial.

wcvemail
wcvemail

The first third of this piece had me trying to guess the pending punch line, or The Onion byline.

Then the second third had me guessing that dogs and cats are now living together, rivers are running backwards, because Jim's conversion seemed as revelatory as was Saul's on the Tarsus road.

The last third slumped a bit, especially when I seemed to hear strains of "Kumbaya" wafting out of the baby coos in the back yard.

Overall, though, this is another solid A, Mr. Schutze. And you also get this month's "Afflict the comfortable" award for casting a critical eye on your own ilk.

Threeboys
Threeboys

Wonderful article.  As a staunch Republican, Bush backer, kudo's for identifying the problem as non partisan and non racial.  There are very poor, very uneducated people of all colors.  I wish we all could realize the old adage "a rising tide lifts all boats". 

Not being a sociologist, I may be wrong, but we seem stuck in a perpetual circle of non-education, poverty, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy.  Where the circle starts I don't know, but it certainly can only be headed on its way to ending when we begin with education. 

Parental involvement is crucial (thus the reading ready kindergartner's) in education but it's hard to get there when you are a 17 year old mother with no education, a child in an awful day care and you are at the register of a fast food restaurant with no end in sight.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

Your probem, Jim, is that you and too many of your ccmmenters here still believe in the "whole liberal/conservative paradigm." There isn't one and there hasn't been for decades. And there may not have been even them. You are trying to carry around fluid new realities in an old leaky bucket.

Give up the fuzzy, muddled old paradigm, Jim, and watch reality snap into a sharp new focus. Your notion of yourself as "a lifelong libtard Democrat product of Roosevelt liberal New Deal parents" for example. Wouldn't you think by now someone would have outgrown that, especially someone who wants to write usefully and cogently about what's happening now?

Threeboys
Threeboys

Fifty years ago, Kennedy would have been a Republican.

Threeboys
Threeboys

Hey idiot. This story isn't about Bush. It is about the failure of our education system and the fact that that's non partisan. BTW. We don't know anything about the current community organizer in chief's Ivy League grades because he won't release them. Openly admits his own drug use. Never held a private sector job. Called himself a constitutional professor when he was, at best, a substitute teacher, His home purchase in Chicaigo is reminiscent of an insider trade (like the future female democrat presidential candidates cattle transaction) and now wants to attack a country that the UN showed proof that took in Sadams WMD On the other hand, we do know that stadium money was passed by Arlington's voters,GWB presided over a war based on intelligence agreed upon by every major intelligence agency in the world passed almost unanimously by congress. And Bush's published grades at Harvard were better than Kerry's.

James080
James080

@ozonelarryb 

“A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side.”

-Joseph Addison 

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @ruddski To be fair, they only abandoned 'progressive' because it was synonymous with 'fascist' and the whole Mussolini thing fell out of fashion with the war.

Because progressive and fascist are, after all, synonyms.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

no, "kids naturally want to learn" is inaccurate. it's a huge generalization.

if that were true teachers wouldn't have such a difficult occupation. and without a doubt it IS a difficult job.

some kids strive to learn, and you are right it matters not from what socio-economic or racial basis their background. likewise some kids just couldn't care less, and they also can have this affliction being from any socio-economic and racial groups

the problem with education system today is people expect a one size fits all approach should work.

it doesn't.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@everlastingphelps Phelps, I see Jim's good writing on this piece has inspired some rising-above responses. Your first para sizzles. 

Conservatives set themselves up as the enemies of school reform when local conservatives, such as on school boards, resisted the validation of results of school funding through massively standardized testing. Measuring ROI should have been embraced by conservatives, but it was resisted and litigated (at public expense) simply because it was imposed by Big Government in D.C.

ruddski
ruddski

@everlastingphelps 

Most things "liberal" in the leftist, not classic sense, have to be cumpulsory. Gee, wonder how many supporters of compulsory health insurance are trying for waivers, and how many supporters now have part-time jobs?

Soon, a new law outlawing part-time employment, then eventually, Euro-style can't-fire-anyone laws. So we can all be free!

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@bmarvel Just want to throw this shoe at this particular comment thread and see who it fits: Never try to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

joeptone1
joeptone1

@bmarvel This isn't Jim's problem, or our commenters' problem. It's America's problem, and I bet you're not as great at paradigm avoidance as you think.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Nice sentiment Jimmy, but let me draw a distinction between my ripping into massive hypocrisy of a public figure who spewed fr om the public forum/bully pulpit and actd otherwise; and gratuitous calumny.

Specifically the virtue I see in W is my hope that we are more skeptical of public moralizing and "intelligence findings."

Cheers

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps @ruddski

Because progressive and fascist are, after all, synonyms.

sure, because being a "progressive" connotates the nationalism, statism and corporatism that is inherent in fascism.

what, progressives aren't supportive of the nationalist, statist and corporatist tenets of fascism? they are pretty much the antithesis?

apparently political science is not a class you did well in....

ruddski
ruddski

@everlastingphelps @ruddski 

Benito was SUCH a fan of Woody Wilson. But keep in mind that liberals cannot, by their own definition, be fascist. Any liberal fascist can tell you that, with a knowing chuckle.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ruddski Ruddski, phelps,et al. --Left, right, liberal, conservative are not any of them consistent political philosophies or even thought-out positions on governance. They are temperaments, vague emotional inclinations (read Jonathan Haidt in this regard). Only mad persons are consistently "liberal" or "conservative," and because they are mad, they are very, very dangerous when they get into political office. Why does attaining the Presidency always push conservatives to the left and liberals to the right? Because the logic and method of government sometime calls for a"conservative"solution and some times for a "liberal" solution, but always for a realist solution. There are, in other words, values and truths deeper than politics that politics exists to serve. (read the preamble to our Constitution in this regard).

If you want to talk about the historic evolution of the Progressive movement, or how yesteryear's liberals look in some respects like today's conservatives, and vice versa, be aware that you are only speaking in the shorthand jargon of the academic political scientists. Reality is far more messy than that.

The average voter, as I pointed out to Jim, may be temperamentally conservative on some issues, temperamentally liberal on others. And for good reason. That's what derails these conversations again and again, why we talk past -- and over-- one another.          

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@RTGolden1 @bmarvel 

pigs can sing, it just may not be the song you expected to hear.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@RTGolden1I'm told that pigs are very intelligent animals. Perhaps nobody as ever really tried.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@joeptone1 Joe, The trick is not avoidance. We all live within the paradigm. The trick is to try and think around or past it.

Threeboys
Threeboys

That's a wonderful, fact based response.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@everlastingphelps 

uh, your attempts at links don't work...blanks.

just like your logic.

want to try again?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@mavdog@everlastingphelps@ruddskiRight, because there is nothing nationalist, statist or corporatist about poster boy progressive Obama, right?  Or should I start listing the ways?

How about John Flynn's definition:

  1. Anti-capitalist, but with capitalist features;
  2. Economic demand management...
  3. ...through budget deficits
  4. Direct economic planning, reconciled with partial economic autonomy through corporatism;
  5. Militarism and imperialism;
  6. Suspension of rule of law.

I'm really interested to see how you try to wiggle out of 5 and 6 as Obama beats the drums of War of Choice against Syria.

wcvemail
wcvemail

Part of the conservative opposition was surely caused by the NEA's support of NCLB, early and strongly. If those unions are for it, we local, small-government folks must be against it.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@everlastingphelps @wcvemail Right timing of opposition, wrong author name. Bush 43 proposed NCLB in 2001 with bipartisan support. After learning that in Wikipedia, I say that local conservatives on school boards had even less reason to so categorically reject testing to validate the expenditures. 

In fact, NCLB as we know it was proposed specifically to put teeth in, or at least eyes on, the federal expenditures that had been in place since LBJ's day. That is, rather than simply re-authorize the same, rolling program, Bush and Congress re-authorized with the condition of NCLB.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@markzero Markzero --in Texas, which is an extremely partisan state, less than half of the voters vote a straight ticket, and that percentage has been slowly falling during the past few election cycles.

That anybody votes a straight ticket suggests, as you observe, that partisanship is a matter of emotion rather than careful thought.

markzero
markzero

Voters are non-partisan. 

@bmarvel many voters vote straight ticket. It's a lot easier than having to research or actually think about all those candidates and the jobs they're asking to do.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@A-nony-mouse They HAVE to win their base to even get nominated. But after they're nominated, they have to run and that's when -- as alert observers have noted of our last election -- they all start to edge toward the middle. Because that's where the action is. 

Those who fail to learn that lesson become permanent Earl Warrens or Adlai Stevensons or Barry Goldwaters -- or Ron Pauls. 

A-nony-mouse
A-nony-mouse

@bmarvel  Candidates in most state and federal (and to a growing extent, local) races no longer try to win the "middle". They are trying to win primaries and motivate their "base", which also happen to be the most partisan voters.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@JimSX The question, Jim, is why do candidates spend so much effort trying to win the "middle."

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bmarvel 

If the voters are non-partisan, why do the candidates send so much effort and treasure on their partisanship?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@JimSX Peculiar criteria for political thought, Jim. Unless, perhaps, YOU are thinking of running..

Politicians are partisan. Voters are non-partisan.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bmarvel @joeptone1 

Bill, next time you want to run for president, try running as the around-or-past-the-paradigm candidate.

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