Saturday, February 19, 2011

Manichean political shout-fests: not mature, responsible governance

By Gail Collins, New York Times,February 16, 2011
Nobody wants to see underperforming, overcrowded schools being deprived of more resources anywhere. But when it happens in Texas, it’s a national crisis. The birth rate there is the highest in the country, and if it continues that way, Texas will be educating about a tenth of the future population. It ranks third in teen pregnancies — always the children most likely to be in need of extra help. And it is No. 1 in repeat teen pregnancies.

Which brings us to choice two. Besides reducing services to children, Texas is doing as little as possible to help women — especially young women — avoid unwanted pregnancy.
For one thing, it’s extremely tough for teenagers to get contraceptives in Texas. “If you are a kid, even in college, if it’s state-funded you have to have parental consent,” said Susan Tortolero, director of the Prevention Research Center at the University of Texas in Houston.
Plus, the Perry government is a huge fan of the deeply ineffective abstinence-only sex education. Texas gobbles up more federal funds than any other state for the purpose of teaching kids that the only way to avoid unwanted pregnancies is to avoid sex entirely. (Who knew that the health care reform bill included $250 million for abstinence-only sex ed? Thank you, Senator Orrin Hatch!) But the state refused to accept federal money for more expansive, “evidence-based” programs.
“Abstinence works,” said Governor Perry during a televised interview with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune.
“But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country,” Smith responded.
“It works,” insisted Perry.
No, Mr. Perry it does not work! And all the research evidence from all the jurisdictions in the world demonstrate that abstinence only instruction does not reduce unwanted pregnancies.
However, there are other very disturbing signs in the Texas school situation: larger classes, fewer teachers, restricted curriculum and reduced budgets, even when federal funds are being rejected...and the right-wing trend will continue now that all talk of governance has turned to cutting spending, the holy writ of the right wing wing-nuts, in the Tea Party and in the rest of the Republican party in the U.S.
The United States shouts loudly in the halls of diplomacy around the world that it does not want to see theocracies bubbling up in former dictatorships, even if those dictatorships have been 'friendly' to U.S. interests, or have been paid for their loyalty by the U.S. State Department. It has proclaimed adherence and support for the ideals of democracy, and free and open debate, and respect for the will of the people in other countries, while, at home, there is a very dangerous and deeply embedded theme of complete rejection of those ideals, especially in the minds, public statements and bills passed by those on the right wing of the American political spectrum.
  • Forbidding money for contraceptives in public health care;
  • forbidding money for therapeutic abortions in public health care funding;
  • stripping teachers from schools and resources from the budgets of many schools;
  • closing many schools, even some that are performing above expectations and average
  • stripping funds from many supportive and needed social programs
  • stripping funds from research and innovation
  • removing collective bargaining rights from public service unions, after decades of fighting to win those same rights in the first place
  • gutting public service pensions for already retired pensioners
  • while at the same time leaving the Pentagon budget untouched....with virtually no cuts....
This manichean "either-or" dichotomy is a recipe for disaster. And fundamentalist thinkers, conservative thinkers seem unable to hold two conflicting thoughts in tension and with respect for both at the same time.
The President has announced both budget cuts and investments to "win the future" and the balancing of competing interests, both the short term debt and deficit problem and the potential route to new jobs, new industries and new revenues for individuals/families and for the state, local and federal governments through taxes based on those new revenues. His thinking seems incompatible with the mind-set of the black-and-white manicheans.
In fact political debate in the U.S. has suffered such a reductionism that it no longer qualifies as authentic debate. What has happened is a literal shouting match, where the side making the loudest, longest and most penetrating noise wins the argument, not the nuanced, sophisticated and balanced integration of ideas which might, on their surface, appear mutually exclusive.
One cannot be opposed, in principal, to abortion, while at the same time favouring public funding for therapeutic abortions in those cases where such a procedure is warranted. For anti-abortionists, there simply are no cases where such a procedure is warranted.
One cannot be serious about debt and deficit reduction, and at the same time, demonstrate a commitment to investing in new technologies and new industries and new infrastructure for the future.
In Texas, one cannot support budget cutting and support for education at the same time, because the latter trumps the former, in the perceptions of the opposition.
In Texas, one cannot seek to reduce the numbers of abortions and teen pregnancies, and also support the provision of condoms, and evidence-based education programs through public funding to the less fortunate, in whose demographics many of the single-parent pregnancies occur.
Just think, for a moment, about the messages these "either-or" dichotomies are sending to the students in all the schools and colleges and universities across the land...The essential purpose of education, to instill a capacity to balance, and to integrate and to wrestle with conflicting ideas simultaneously, in a reasoned and sophisticated and collegial manner  working toward implementation, is belied and denied, in spades, by those governing the country.
Life is complex; it posits competing interests on each kitchen table in each home in every state. It also requires that those sitting at those tables learn to discuss, weigh, listen, reflect and to compromise for the purpose of meeting the important needs of the family, without either breaking the bank, or the hearts of those at the table with what are in most cases, limited, finite and often diminishing resources.
If that lesson mandates itself around the kitchen table, why then is it so difficult to discover its legitimate application at the larger, more elegant and more significant tables where the leaders of the country also need to discuss, weigh, listen, reflect and compromise for the purpose of governing the country...and not for the purpose of serving individual political ambitions or the interests of those paying the piper, the lobbyists for the largest bank accounts for the largest corporations and special interests like the EXXON's and the Chevrons and the Roman Catholic church?
And it is a growing trend toward a manichean duality that obliterates the option of complex, nuanced, balanced, reasoned and reasonable discussion, debate and compromise, that renders those in charge unworthy of public support when voting time rolls around. And it is not only happening in the U.S. Canada has an active, myopic and intransigent right-wing political action committee: it is called the Harper Conservative movement! It does not merit the word "government"!



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