AT CROSS PURPOSES

If someone running for office insists that government is bad you can rest assured that if they get elected the government that follows will in fact be very bad. Anything else would undermine the premise upon which he won support. When we are critical of the government we get from such people we are speaking past one another. A necessary part of proving that private enterprise or the free market or Jesus or rugged individualism or whatever can do something better than the state is setting the bar so low that crony capitalism can't help but trip and fall over it. To tell a modern conservative that what they advocate is bad public policy offers no new information to anyone involved in the conversation; the whole point is to make it as bad as possible.

The same is true of the consequences of policy changes, which liberals often interpret as bugs when they are in fact the main feature. Repealing Obamacare will cost many people who cannot otherwise afford it their health insurance? Yes, that's the whole point to right wingers. More poor people getting sick and dying is something close to an autoerotic fantasy for conservatives. They lie, including to themselves, and pretend that what they advocate is some kind of solution, but they're not very good at convincing anyone. They know that tax cuts for the wealthy aren't going to Trickle Down and create anything for the rest of the country, but they know they need something better than "Look, we just really want the tax cuts and couldn't give half a shit what happens to working people" when they're on camera.

The mistake Our Side makes so often (see Obama's first couple years in office) is assuming that the right is acting In Good Faith and earnestly desires the best policy and the best government. This is a poor assumption. They just want to get what is best for themselves, and they believe that their political opponents have the same motivation – i.e., that poor people vote for left wing candidates just to get free stuff from the rich taxpayers and the noise about improving society as a whole is a smokescreen. In this way, politics to the current American conservative is a zero sum game of resource competition. The talk about policy objectives and grand strategies for a better society is a shiny coat of paint over everyone's true motives.

Keep this in mind as the Secretary-to-be of the Department of Education, Betsey Devos, is approved by the Senate in the coming weeks. Her selection in November brought the moribund issue of charter schools back into the national conversation, if briefly, and will do so moving forward. Since I get a paycheck in higher education, this issue does not affect me directly but I do have an awful lot of K-12 educators in my social circle. I see people argue in circles about charter schools regularly and to no effect. Right wingers chant School Choice like it is the prayer that will get them into heaven; liberals fire back statistics proving that at their top-dollar best, charter schools are roughly as good as public schools once we account for their power to take only those students they choose to take. Again, these two viewpoints are at cross purposes. The left assumes that charter school advocates 1) believe that charter schools are better and 2) are interested in "better schools" as the ultimate goal.

A full summary of the conservative movement's support for things like vouchers and charter schools is as follows: it's cheaper.

The way they see it, half the kids coming out of public schools today are basically illiterate. To them, this is fine. We have enough competition for the kinds of jobs a college degree is supposed to qualify one for as it is. Our options are to pump a ton of money into public schools and maybe see some incremental improvement in outcomes, or we can just create a system that selects out the half-decent students for a real education and future and then warehouse the rest until they're no longer minors and they're ready for the prison-poverty-violence cycle to Hoover them up. Vouchers and Charter Schools are not, to the conservative mind, a better way to educate kids well. They are a cheaper way to educate them poorly. What matters is that it costs less to people like six-figure income earners and home owners. Those people can afford to send their kids to a decent school anyway. Public education, to their way of thinking, used to be about educating people just enough that they could provide blue collar or service industry labor. Now that we have too much of that, a public high school is just a waiting room for prison. So why throw money into it? They don't think education "works" anyway; people are born Good or Bad, Talented or Useless. So it only makes sense to find the cheapest possible way to process the students who were written off before they reached middle school. If charter schools manage to save 1% of them, great. If not, well, then they're no worse than public schools. And they're cheaper! Did I mention that they're cheaper?

When two people are trying to put together a puzzle, it's not going to go very well if one person is pointing at the box and saying, "Look, we're trying to put together a sailboat" and the other is off trying to rearrange the pieces to make a dinosaur. Both will fail, but at least in this case they'd understand that they failed because they had radically different goals. The big difference in our political system is that the dinosaur guy smiles real big and swears he's trying to help you make a sailboat, then resumes his task as soon as he gets his hands on the pieces.

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55 Responses to “AT CROSS PURPOSES”

  1. Isaac Says:

    An old conversation about Obama's first two years: (Hey, look, there's Ed in the comments!)

    https://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/biggest-surprise-of-last-two-years-bad-at-losing/

  2. NC_Nate Says:

    Damn. Just… damn.

    One of your best, Ed.

  3. TAGinMO Says:

    Uh, yeah. What NC_Nate said. Wow.

  4. Ray Dio Says:

    Let's also not forget that when yahoos speak of "privatizing" something (say Social Security), what they really mean is "let a bunch of already wealthy private sector white dudes run something so they can extract fees/rent from the miscreants while providing negligibly better to worse service/choices".

  5. Annoyed Liberal Says:

    The conservatives are doing a really bad job of getting rid of the poor. Giving them a bad education and letting everyone buy guns, or taking away their health care and letting them get sick, or paying them paltry wages and letting them go hungry and live in substandard housing, doesn't actually kill people very quickly. It just leaves us with an increasing population of people who are hungry, angry, and other things that end in -gry, and frustrated with the people who are visibly comfortable. It's going to end in violence against the upper class, whether wholesale or piecemeal.

    Frankly I often wish the regressives would just openly advocate a policy of literally killing the poor and elderly. Life would be safer for the rest of us.

  6. Ellis Weiner Says:

    Great (alas) piece. I'd just add "military" to the "prison-poverty-violence" cycle.

  7. Emerson Dameron Says:

    I used to think the Good Faith libertarian argument was: Take away all privileges and protections for the less fortunate, and they will get so pissed off that they will rise up like Randian phoenixes. But I'm pretty sure it's just the first part, considering the covert fascination with eugenics. :(

  8. democommie Says:

    @ Emerson Dameron:

    The good faith libertarian argument assumes that when the neoserfs have had enough they will simply do what you suggest and rise up like Randian phoenixes (or is it phoenixae, phoenixii or something else?).

    Do you know why there is so much violence in urban shithole environments? It's because the gun is something anyone can use.

  9. Brian M Says:

    The upper class can pretty effectively protect themselves from the violence. Their are gated communities, private security forces, etc. Of course, there will be violence, but to a right wing fascist, Brazil* looks like a good idea.

    * At least the Brazilian lower orders realize they are being screwed and rebel more directly.

  10. Interrobang Says:

    I beg to differ, Ed; the charter school thing does affect you directly, just asynchronously. Do you think the horrible student essays you're marking now are going to get better, or worse as education striates further and most of it becomes crappier, while the push to send ever more people to postsecondary education continues to increase? You're not getting the brunt of it as a worker in the system, but you sure have to deal with its products.

  11. mago Says:

    Oh, the blood, the blood.
    Repeat hand washing motion.

  12. April Says:

    Nailed it, Ed!

  13. greatlaurel Says:

    Better than your last post. One mistake is that charter schools are not cheaper. Charter schools are designed to funnel money to rich, white GOP contributors while giving substandard or no education to their marks, I mean, victims, oops, I mean students while siphoning funds away from real, accountable public schools thus further starving real public schools for the tax money people voted to spend on real education. It is a brilliant con.

  14. NickT Says:

    You know, Ed, for an evil, wealthy defender of white male privilege, sometimes you sound almost like a progressive!

  15. Talisker Says:

    In the Age of Trump, the Republican party barely even pretends its actions will make things better. "Yeah, it'll be great. The best ever. Just wait and see. I am very smart, and I will make it great."

    One thing it's undoubtedly good at is pissing off Chardonnay-sipping liberals in Marin County. For the more nihilistic GOP voters, that may be enough. They lack the initiative to rise up and demand justice from the comfortable, but at least they can annoy some of them.

  16. HoosierPoli Says:

    School choice is a canard, as you point out. There's literally zero reason why we couldn't let people choose the school they want to go to NOW. My hometown had three middle schools – the good one, the middling one, and the ghetto-ass one. Is there any reason, AT ALL, that we couldn't let all the students choose the good one? Take all the property taxes everyone pays in the whole city and let everyone go to the good school?

    Yes, and that reason is that the rich already paid for the good one to be good, and they moved to their McMansion so they could send their kids to the good one, and letting a bunch of rednecks from the boonies and crack babies from The Hill go to class with their precious little Megan would be an outrage against common decency.

    Ironically, school-choicers secretly believe, but won't admit, what every educator knows: there are no bad schools. There are hopeless students.

  17. Katydid Says:

    @democommie; it's not just the urban areas with the gun violence, or have you not been paying attention? Lots of rural areas are awash with gun violence and also countless "toddler shoots self/others" events.

    @Greatlaurel; exactly. Charter schools exist to enrich the owners and also give religious zealots a religion-only education for their kids on the taxpayer's dime. Whether the kids actually learn anything in these schools is completely irrelevant.

  18. April Says:

    @Katydid – the kids not learning is not a irrelevant, but necessary. Just remember repugs "love the poorly educated."

  19. Kovpakistan Says:

    It's amazing how much the conservative movement resembles the Russian regime these days.

    First you have their type of decision loop.

    1. You want to do something bad, so you immediately rationalize it to yourself that the other side does it too.

    Example: Poor people just want free stuff! Or in Russia- The West has overthrown the Ukrainian government in a coup!

    2. Do the bad thing, then categorically deny that you did it, even while insisting that the other side does it too.

    There's also the thing about foolishly assuming that the other side is rational. Obama did this with Republicans and Russia. There is no rational negotiation with either. Republicans play to win, period. Putin is desperate and has to maintain the illusion of stability and super-power status to shore up his own domestic support lest he end up like Gaddafi.

    Thus there is no horse-trading with such people. Any concession you give will not be returned in kind.

  20. Tim H. Says:

    Beginning to resemble "The Atrocity Archives" (Charles Stross), with elites using suffering to power dark magic.

  21. Zak44 Says:

    Why are Conservatives so rabid about killing Obamacare? Not because it doesn't work, but because it does. Just as Medicare and Social Security do. But their ideology insists that only evil can come from the government and only good can come from the free market—especially when it makes them and their cohorts rich. (BTW, when will the left start using words to their advantage? For example, every time a Republican says "privatizing." it should be reframed as "profitizing." )

  22. Kovpakistan Says:

    It's still weird though, because Obamacare makes people buy a product from private insurance companies. Why they want to cut Medicare and Medicaid is obvious, but not the other half of it.

    That being said, Obamacare simply isn't sustainable even if it worked as planned. Single payer is the only civilized option.

  23. Dave Dell Says:

    Thanks Zak44. Great phrase. Profitizing. I'm going to use that with my Elemetary School Principal nephew. He's alarmed, but not alarmed enough to not vote for trumph.

  24. Brutus Says:

    One of the most cynically depressing posts I've read in a long time. I'm not saying it's not also true, just that it descends to a level where I almost never allow myself to go. Too many demons. (Maybe I'm not the evidence-based realist I tell myself I am.)

  25. Chuck Says:

    In Wisconsin, the overwhelming majority of new charter school students are kids coming from private schools. So not only are the schools not even taking the public school kids, they're being used to launder money to families who can already afford to send their kids to private schools. We're doomed.

  26. Breezeblock Says:

    @ Ellis Weiner, the military for sure. Need cannon fodder for the next Glorious Crusade….

  27. Skipper Says:

    Current US conservatism is, at its best, a swindle. The conservative antipathy to Trump during the election cycle wasn't so much a matter of principle as it was that a new swindler was in town, muscling in on their territory — much the same as Mafia families defend their turf against other families.

    But now, Trump has signaled that everyone can have a piece of the action, and the conservatives are falling nicely into line. The sheep are ready to be fleeced.

    As far as education, it was the sustained assault on education over the last four decades that led to Trump. We have a produced a generation or two of voters with no critical thinking skills. This began at the lower grades, but extended to the college and university level, where years ago they stopped providing education and instead focused on training and credentialing. A college degree no longer guarantees you a job, but merely consideration for a job. If a student could get his "degree" a week after entering college for an extra fee of $5,000, most would take it.

    The voters who jumped on the Trump bandwagon didn't have the mental skills to know they were being conned. Many of them still don't. Many of these are people who send their bank account info to the sister of the former Nigerian oil minister — or who take out a second mortgage to buy lottery tickets when the prize gets really high.

    Had they done two seconds of research, they would have known what Trump was up to. He freaking told them. From Art of the Deal:

    "You tell people a lie 3 times, they will believe anything. You tell people what they want to hear, play to their fantasies, and then you close the deal."

    It doesn't get any clearer than that.

  28. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    Excellent post. I must constantly remind myself that right wingers in this country do not have the same definition of "country" as I do. At least, their definition does not link to any concept that might be labelled "countryman." It can't, for that concept does not even exist in their minds; they see everyone else in this nation as either competition, at best, or worse, as amoral enemies of Law and Order. Hence, the only public institutions they're happy to fund are those which keep Those People in check, i.e. law enforcement.

  29. Tim Says:

    "Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy"

    http://polaris.gseis.ucla.edu/pagre/conservatism.html

    Nothing more, nothing less. Always has been, always will be. Aristocrats don't need educated, critically thinking people to be their subjects. In fact, such would be detrimental to their aims.

    @Zak44: your point about conservatives not liking government things that work. I puzzled for a long time about why certain right-wingnuts want to insist that the Moon landing was faked. It was only relatively recently that it it hit me that it's because NASA is a government program that was spectacularly successful.

  30. Gerald McGrew Says:

    For the conservatives I know, their support of "school choice" and/or charter schools amounts to "I want to be able to send my kid to a mostly-white, upper-middle class school where there aren't any poor kids".

    It reminds me of a conversation I had with a conservative friend, where he questioned the existence of the Dept. of Education. He wondered why we send tax money to a federal agency that just turns around and gives it back to the state. Why, he asked, can't we just eliminate the DoE and give the money straight to our state?

    When I explained that the point is to "even out" the money between states, so we don't end up with poor states with really poor schools and rich states with really good schools, he thought for a second and said, "I guess that's the fundamental difference between us. You care about other kids' education….I don't."

    All I could do was agree….yes, I told him, I believe it's in our national interest to have a well-educated populace, which behooves us to have a good public education system. He just shrugged and said, "I have no responsibility towards anyone else's kids or their education".

    To me, that sums up modern conservatism quite nicely.

  31. junior Says:

    Really great post.

  32. geoff Says:

    I don't even think "it's cheaper" explains the charter school phenomenon. More like, how can we (educational "entrepeneurs") get some of that sweet, sweet, public money into our own pockets?

    Something else not addressed is that private schools (which is what charter schools are) really took off after the Feds ordered public schools desegregated. Sure, they called them "Christian" schools, but they're basically "white" schools. A large part of the school choice/ vouchers movement is in my opinion driven by people who just want a little financial help sending their kids to an all white school. "Christian values" and so forth are largely a smokescreen.

    Another real advantage of school privatization is whacking the public schoolteachers' unions. How dare a group of employees get together and bargain collectively? What is this, the 20th century? Fuck 'em, they vote Dem anyway.

  33. RP Says:

    That charters may be cheaper is nice but it's not the main thing that floats ring-wing boats. It's all about the kickback.

    Charter school owners contribute $ to Republicans. More charter school = more $ for Republicans.

    Not to mention that charter school faculty is non-union.

    More charter schools = less public schools = less unionized teachers = less $ for Democrats.

  34. Jenny Says:

    This is a brilliant post, but it almost makes me want to just throw up my hands and say, "fuck it, I've got mine."

  35. Jenny Says:

    (The problem is, there are some rational people who both could benefit from and actually support progressive things like public education, and those people need my vote/support.)

  36. RP Says:

    PS to my previous post: charter schools are a legal way to divert taxpayer $ into Republican campaign accounts. What's not to like?

  37. Safety Man! Says:

    @ Gerald
    Sad to see, but this is where we are headed. On the plus side, things will be easier for our kids as they will be competing against children who will be taught in "school" that evolution is false, climate change is a myth (I think the supreme irony is that you can see recorded evidence of climate change in the Bible, no less), and so forth.

    @Ed
    Damn if you didn't hit me with a jolt with this one, I grew up Protestant, and one of the tenants that was under the surface was The Elect, which is the idea that people are born winners or losers from the start.

    To the group: If you look at popular literature, the right is fairly terrified of a serf revolt, just look at all the Apocolypse porn that involves Mad Max roving hordes, usually former gang members and minorities. A private security force can handle burglars, but it's not going to do jack shit against a concentrated assault.

  38. Kulkuri Says:

    Just a thought. Could the sustained push for vouchers/charter schools be a backlash from the IRS denying tax deductions for school tuition to church schools (segregation academies) during the 70s??

  39. SeaTea Says:

    Real-life headline on Fox News last night (Tucker Carlson's show): "Are Liberals Ruining College?" This was due to a, supposedly, 48:1 ratio of liberal professors to conservative. Hmm. I wonder why that might be?

  40. Katydid Says:

    @Gerald McGrew; the conservative motto might as well be, "I've got mine; screw you."

    @Kulkuri; I'm sure that's part of it. There's a whole lot of bitching and moaning from the local religious homeschool sect in my area because they want their homeschooled kids to be able to play fooootbaw on the local high school team (pushing out kids who actually, you know, ATTEND the high school). Occasionally they'll try to confuse things by claiming they also want free art and music education for their kids, but if you listen long enough, it's to get their sons noticed by football scouts and trained on the taxpayer's dime.

    @SeaTea; because reality has a liberal bias?

  41. Gerald McGrew Says:

    @Katydid,

    I'd say my friend's motto is more like "My kids have theirs; if your kids don't, that's YOUR fault and YOU should do something about it, not me".

    When I asked him what parents should do if they're in a state with a poor public school system, he said he believes in the concept of "voting with your feet". IOW, if you're in a bad place…..move. Of course when I pointed out that not everyone has the means to just pack up and move to another state, he just shrugged and said "that's not my problem".

    And the true hypocrisy here is that this is a guy who, after his business failed, got bailed out by his dad to the tune of about $50,000, interest free and "pay me when you can".

    Everyone has that sort of safety net, right?

  42. Interrobang Says:

    @Gerald: Now there's a guy who's devoid of even the merest vestiges of enlightened self-interest. After all, educated people who are happy and have things to do aren't breaking into your house and stealing your stuff and maybe killing you in the process, in the main.

  43. Katydid Says:

    @Gerald McGrew; I was just starting high school when the Billy Joel song Allentown was all over the radio. I remember saying very disgustedly that if people's jobs were going away, they should *just move* (in my defense, I was a military brat and moving was a regular part of my life). My very-conservative father set me straight about why people couldn't just pick up and move, particularly when they had families and support systems in place. I'm just sayin' it was so simple even a young teenager could understand…

  44. April Says:

    I think there is going to be a big surprise among both the repug voters and the repug congress when they repeal O care and a million JOBS are lost as well as the health care. Hopefully this could really blow up in their faces.

    Here's the scary thing….repugs now control a majority of the states. You know what this means? They can change the constitution.

    Just gonna leave that here…..

  45. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    @SeaTea and Katydid

    Ya know, there are social scientists who are worried that the political homogeneity in their field is having a deleterious effect on scholarship.

    Also, it's a shame that "liberals" and "radical leftists" are grouped together in our political discourse. If Carlson had replaced the former term with the latter, that would have made an interesting question.

  46. Katydid Says:

    @Concerned Citizen; I have two kids in college and grad school. I teach a course at a community college. Know how many "radical leftists" I have met in higher ed? Possibly one (didn't know him well enough to be sure). Know how many my kids have talked about? Zero. I'm thinking that's a non-problem, left over from the last conservative college terror-gate of the 1960s.

    As for the Heterodox Academy (the linked site in your post); Breitbart is a huge fan of them. Their stated goal is to "increase diversity in academia". Interesting; my own undergrad and post-grad experience, and that of my kids, seems to point to a reality-based education in college. Again, reality has a liberal viewpoint and that tends to terrify conservatives.

  47. Katydid Says:

    @April; I think conservatives are impervious to reality. Around the office they're spouting off "facts" about unemployment being the worst it's ever been in human history under the n- occupier of the White House. The pointy-haired-boss, who owns both a beach house *and* a timeshare at a ski resort *and* drives an Escalade more than an hour from his deep country mansionette (on 8 acres, as he keeps reminding us), is crowing about how Trump is going to "bring prosperity back" to people like him.

  48. Safety Man! Says:

    @Katydid

    I appreciated the Dilbert reference

  49. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    @Katydid

    Hope you don't mind my asking: in what fields are you/your kids educated/being educated? Because the distribution of radical leftists is not uniform throughout academia. They're concentrated in certain departments (see Table 12 on p. 41).

    And admittedly, to ask if they're "ruining" college is hyperbolic. Still, it's worth wondering a few things about them and about their contributions to our intellectual and social milieu. If you're concerned for liberalism, you should be concerned about illiberal ideologies (hint: one of those is Marxism).

  50. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    Darn, messed up the first link.

  51. Katydid Says:

    @SafetyMan, thanks, but sadly, the shoe fits in his case. We joke about replacing his computer with an Etch-a-Sketch to see if he notices.

    @ConcernedCitizen; the one is a grad student in Physics who minored in English as an undergrad, the other is an undergrad in Comp Sci minoring in (wait for it) Poli Sci. The Poli Sci one is dating an International Business major and the Phyics one broke up over Christmas with a History major. Me, I usually teach Comp Sci at the cc level (my master's) but I've also grabbed a few World Language courses (my undergrad degree) when I could get them. The philosophy I've tried to raise my kids in is to major in something that will get you work, but make time for something you love.

  52. Katydid Says:

    Also @Concerned Citizen; I did my undergrad degree in a very liberal field (language and linguistics; Russian/Spanish/French) during the Cold War when we were fighting the Nicaraguans over their right to elect their own leaders and investing in Apartheid South Africa. I can still tell you how much the Metro in Moscow cost to ride in 1985 (5 kopecks). Despite that, the scary leftist of rightwing nightmare was not someone I ever met on a college campus. We had plenty of scary Campus Crusade for Christ'ers and even scarier Reagan Youths, but no wild-eyed left-of-center beardy weirdies.

  53. April Says:

    Science. We scientists are pretty much all bleeding-heart libs, if only because most of us are also atheists.

    @katydid – I know, right? It's amazing how you can put actual, real facts in front of their noses and yet….somehow…it just doesn't click. Prob another reason scientists are libs…we believe in facts.

    True story – just yesterday I was having an argussion (a passionate, but not heated discussion) with my daughter about something. (Topic irrelevant) At one point I said "ok I don't have the numbers but I just KNOW I'm right!" and my daughter quite properly said "Oh, no. In this family we are not allowed to argue based on "feels". Numbers or nothing." (Subsequently, I have temporarily lost until I can find the data to support my position.)

    Facts, like reality, have a liberal bias.

  54. Katydid Says:

    April, you're raising a great daughter!

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