Tuesday, September 17, 2019

In Fits And Spurts, At Most

It has become conventional wisdom that the two major political parties in the USA have become increasingly polarized, with the Republican Party becoming more conservative and the Democratic Party more liberal.

That politically correct view, sometimes accompanied by a wistfulness for bipartisanship, is 50% accurate.  Because of their fondness for comity in politics, centrists like the notion that the Democratic Party is fleeing the ideological center. Conservative politicians adore it because they can accuse liberals and Democrats of being "socialist" while most of their base doesn't even know what the word means. Centrist Democrats are partial to the notion because it allows them to claim party progressives are out of the mainstream of American thought and life, while the left is proud that it has (allegedly) persuaded tens of millions of voters to support progressive ideas.

In an article published a few days before last November's election, the Atlantic's David Graham maintained that survey data demonstrate that Democrats "are moving leftward on certain issues, especially immigration, economics, and race."

Many Democrats have grown uncomfortable with the policy adopted by the Obama Administration to deport illegal immigrants who have committed felonies, and the Party, thankfully, has maintained its opposition to Trump's wall between the USA and Mexico.  The openness of Democratic politicians to studying reparations for slavery, and especially the unwillingness of any to criticize the scheme, attest to its evolving position on race.

But if Democrats who hold office have been moving leftward on either education or health care- which are not trivial matters- they have been doing so at at a snail's pace.

In last week's presidential debate, one of the co-hosts identified Andrew Yang as "the most vocal proponent on this stage for charter schools" and asked "why isn't taxpayer money better spent on fixing traditional public schools?"

Yang didn't say, probably because he doesn't want money spent primarily on helping traditional public schools, though he did state "we need to pay teachers more," thereby boldly jeopardizing support with the Pay Teachers Less lobby.

However, it was not only Yang who refused to defend the traditional public school.  Pete Buttigieg boldly proclaimed "I believe in public education," likely because he realizes that charter schools, subsidized by tax revenues, also are considered "public schools." He, too, grasped the low-hanging fruit, noting "we have to support and compensate the teaching profession" and also "pay them more like the way we do doctors."   He did not explain how service-for-fee would work in education, nor whether he would cap teachers' salaries at the upper six-figure level.

Massachusetts senator Warren promised she would nominate a "public school" teacher as Secretary of Education and declared "money for public schools should stay in public schools, not go anywhere else." Given that it was Elizabeth Warren, the candidate probably was referring to the traditional public school, but it was telling that she did not find it advantageous to be specific.

Senator Harris recommended "investing in our public school education system" while giving no clue as to whether that includes charter schools.  She did, however, endorse the idea of black children being taught by black teachers, though she did not indicate whether white children would benefit from being taught by exclusively white teachers. Segregation dies hard (not so the quaint idea that teachers should be assigned by such factors as experience or seniority.)

After that, the worst response to the question about traditional schools, there was one last chance because only five individuals were asked to address the issue. Bernie Sanders' primary recommendation was to pay teachers at least $60,000 per year, an idea, not uncommon in Democratic circles, echoed by Joe Biden in response to a different question. Sanders (as had Warren) advocated canceling college debt, as both he and the Massachusetts senator have done many times before.

The liberal or progressive party, the one allegedly hurtling left at breakneck speed, currently has ten major candidates for president, if defined as those able to meet the threshold for the third round of debates. Asked about K-12 education, the number of candidates willing to state that non-profit making schools should be the exclusive recipient of school aid from taxpayers dollars is.... zero (0).

There are other issues, ones outside of immigration and race, on which the the Democratic Party's leftward swing has been virtually imperceptible. Of the more than two dozen persons who are or have been candidates for the Democratic nomination, there are three (3)- Warren, Sanders, and Bill deBlasio- who realize that effective and affordable health care is incompatible with the continued existence of private insurance companies.

On various cultural issues, including race, immigration, gun safety, and gender and reproductive rights (the latter somewhat economic in nature), Democratic office seekers are moving left. (Still, none is willing to say that he/she has any doubts about the sanctity of the Second Amendment or to offer support for the right to bear muskets, as the Founders intended.)

Nonetheless, on most economic issues, the vast majority of politicians in the nation's not right-wing party are failing to challenge concentrated economic power. While Warren and Sanders are willing to assert that health care should be freely available for all and not subject to private profit, even they will not apply that same understanding to K-12 education.

This country was built in large part on the traditional public school, available to all in regardless of status, a focal part of the community which brought together children of all backgrounds for a significant part of the day and sometimes beyond. When most of the Democratic candidates are willing to promise that as President only these schools will be funded by taxpayers, I'll buy the theory that this is a Party barreling left.

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