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A New Deal For Black America from an Old White Guy

Republican nominee Donald Trump outlined a “New Deal for Black America” on Wednesday, and we have to admit that to such middle-aged white folks as ourselves it made a lot of sense. Even the skeptical scribes at the impeccably liberal Washington Post had to concede that his speech in the crucial and traditionally-Republican-yet-largely-black and suddenly swing state of North Carolina was “heavy on policy specifics,” especially by Trump standards, and it specifically addressed the educational and economic and criminal problems that clearly afflict too much of black America. How black folks of any age will respond remains to be seen, but our guess is that they’ll largely reject the messenger if not the entirety of the message.
We especially liked the part about charter schools and other parental choices for education, even if it wasn’t so bold as to come right out and mention vouchers and privatization, and we expect that much of black America will as well. The current system of one-size-fits-all education has resulted in an inarguable racial gap, educational outcomes are the most reliable predictor of economic outcomes, and they always will be unless there’s an economically disastrous and politically impossible quota system imposed on the country, and any old Republican nominee can make a persuasive case that for all their black-friendly reputation the Democrats are too beholden to those stubborn teachers’ unions to ever allow any significant changes in the cushy-for-teachers but ineffective-for-students current system. All the public opinion polls show that this is one of those internecine Democratic interest group conflicts that any old Republican nominee should be able to exploit, and Trump’s undeniably anti-establishment reputation makes it all the more exploitable, so we’ll give him credit for trying, even if more than the usual 95 percent of black voters ultimately don’t.
Without addressing that educational racial gap you really can’t address that economic racial gap, absent those quota systems that Trump surely wouldn’t consider, but Trump also proposed tax holidays and other economic incentives for investment in the most blighted black neighborhoods, and he managed to avoid his past suggestions that pretty much of all black America except his black celebrity friends live in such blight, and the scribes at The Washington Post seem slightly worried about it. Such hard-core capitalist and middle-aged white folks as ourselves have a mixed reaction to his proposals, some of which seem like the usual bad bets waged by government that realists would avoid, we can only imagine that Trump’s supporters on the defiantly white nationalist alt-right will be even more annoyed, and we can’t blame any black folks of any age for pointing out that at no time in his hard-core capitalist life did Trump ever lay down any bets on black America’s more blighted communities, except for maybe Atlantic City, where everyone else he was in business with went bankrupt while he boastfully pocketed millions.
Trump’s old-school Republican “Law and Order” themes should also arguably appeal to the lawful and orderly majority of black Americans, and have a special resonance with that law-abiding and ordered majority of black America’s minority who have to contend with black America’s most blighted neighborhoods, but we don’t expect his more specific policies will prove popular with most black folk. Trump and his now-ubiquitous surrogate former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani are by now associated with the “stop-and-frisk” policy that allowed police wide latitude to stop and frisk random pedestrians, who more often than not were non-white, and a generally indulgent attitude toward police shootings of civilians, who are also more often than non-white. Such middle-aged white folks as ourselves are willing to concede that most more-or-less reasonable searches as seizures in the most blighted areas of black America will mostly involve black folks, and that police shootings of civilians are more often than not quite justifiable no matter the races of the shooters or shot, but we’re also hard-core Constitutionalists who admit there’s some reasonable-search-and-seizure issues involved. We’re also such policy wonks that we have to wonder how much stop-and-frisk had to do with the undeniable drop in the number of murders and other crimes committed in New York City during Giuliani’s generally successful mayoralty, given all the other shrewd law enforcement measures he enacted, and we have enough law-abiding orderly black friends that we can understand their gripes about that time some cop made an entirely unreasonable search, and we can well understand why they might want a harder look at those times when the police shooting of a civilian wasn’t so clearly justified.
Any old Republican nominee should be able to make a nuanced case that the Democratic nominee and the rest of her party are going to get a whole lot of black lives that really do matter killed, and that in the meantime those lives will mostly be spent in economic inequality because of Democratic policies, and that it’s largely because of an educational gap that those teachers’ unions won’t allow the Democrats to address, but Trump has problems making the case that any other old Republican nominee probably wouldn’t have. His family business has been dogged settled cases over housing discrimination, he still insists that those vindicated “Central Park Five” defendants should be jailed despite scientific evidence to the contrary, his ham-fisted “What have you got to lose” line still resonates in the ears of all sorts of black Americans who have something to lose, those defiantly white nationalist supporters on the alt-right are still on board, and even such old-fashioned Republican and trying-hard-not-be-racist middle white folks as ourselves aren’t quite buying it. That Democratic nominee is at least as awful, whether you’re white or black or anything in between, so at this point in this crazy election year we don’t expect it will make much of a difference either way.

— Bud Norman

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Retreat from the Commons

President Barack Obama dropped by Georgetown University for the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Tuesday, and it’s remarkable how much idiocy, hypocrisy, and truly frightening authoritarianism he could pack into a few briefs remarks.
The topic was poverty, which Obama is very much against, and he endeavored to explain why he hasn’t yet gotten rid of it. As it turns out it’s everybody else’s fault, especially people who belong to health clubs and send their children to private schools, and of course Fox News. With a few gazillion extra dollars at his disposal Obama could easily eliminate poverty, you see, but between the influence of those health club members and private school parents and Fox News the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell have become too stingy and mean-hearted to authorize the spending. “We shouldn’t pretend that we have been making those same investments, we haven’t been,” Obama said, adding ominously that “There’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.”
As a graduate of Honolulu’s swankiest prep school and a couple of Ivy League institutions, who sends his own children to Washington’s swankiest prep school and does his girlish work-out routine in the very private gymnasium at the White House, Obama is perfectly positioned to see that “Part of what’s happened is, is that elites in a very mobile, globalized world are able to live together, apart from folks who are not as wealthy, and so they feel less of a commitment to making those investments.” We thought he might have been talking about the “folks” he runs into during his frequent vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, but so far as we can tell they all have good enough tax accountants that they can afford to Democrat, and there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough of them to comprise a significant voting bloc, so apparently such insidious affluence has trickled down to such middle class indulgences as health club memberships and parochial schools. “Those who are doing better and better, more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages, are withdrawing from the commons,” Obama explained. “Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.”
All of which is hooey. Those parents who send their children to private schools continue to pay the local property taxes and federal income taxes that are providing record amounts of spending on public education, and in our experience they’re as keen as anybody to get a greater return on their investment, and they even support charters schools and voucher programs and the other necessary reforms that Obama and his friends in the teachers’ unions are blocking. Those who pay for health club memberships continue to pitch in on the parks, even if the parks are getting more dangerous in this Obama age of policing, and we suspect that most of them are only anti-government to the extent that they’d like to be able to pump some iron or ride those silly exercise bikes or indulge in some other sort of self-improvement nonsense that isn’t available at the local playground. If such selfishness has engendered an anti-government ideology, it is only to the extent that most people still want to retain some private space of freedom, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed the seemingly inexorable pace of public spending.
There’s still Fox News, though, and it seems to have brainwashed an entire nation into believing that Obama shouldn’t be able to spend those extra gazillions of dollars. Noting with characteristic Alinsky-ite cynicism that politics is a matter of who the middle class can be made to blame for its troubles, Obama went on to say that “If you’re struggling — if you’re working but don’t seem to be getting ahead, and over the last 40 years sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top or to be mad at folks at the bottom, and I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving got traction. And look, it’s still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. They’re all like, ‘I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obamaphone,’ or whatever.” We mean, this is supposed to be like the greatest orator in history or whatever, but we find it unconvincing nonetheless.
Our meager entertainment budget doesn’t cover cable, so we were unaware that Fox News was now broadcasting a “constant menu” of Ebenezer Scrooge bah-humbugging about are there no prisons or workhouses, but we get out and about often enough that we don’t doubt they have any trouble finding enough “folks” who don’t want to work and just want a free Obamaphone to fill countless hours of programming. They could no doubt find some more sympathetic poor people to interview, although all the other media seem to have beat well-covered, but being so incorrigibly conservative they’d probably take note of the economic sluggishness and increased competition from illegal immigration and growing tax burdens that have occurred during the Obama years. Such dissent is preventing Obama from eliminating poverty, so he recommends that “We’re going to have change how the media reports on these issues.” That pesky First Amendment will no doubt complicate his efforts, although it isn’t proving much of an impediment these days, and the public’s preference for news that is corroborated by the reality they encounter while they’re out and about will also make the likes of Fox News reluctant to change its honest if poverty-inducing habits, but governments have managed to deal with this in places like Russia and Venezuela so surely America is up to the challenge.
If the government were make the common spaces more appealing and leave plenty of room for private space, and spend its educational dollars as wisely as the countries producing better students at a lower cost, and approach the problem of poverty with a realistic understanding about the various causes of the problem and to what extent the debilitating dependence that even the most well-intentioned programs create is one of them, we’re certain there would be less of that anti-government ideology going on out there. Easier to force the public into the commons and read them the latest government pronouncements, though, and the ones who have been properly educated in the public schools won’t notice the difference.

— Bud Norman

Polls, Politics, and Prioritizing Our Problems

All that “tranquility of the global community” the White House spokesman was recently boasting about dominated Thursday’s news, what with Israeli ground troops entering Gaza and a jet from the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines being shot down over Russian-occupied Ukraine, so it would have been easy to overlook an intriguing Gallup poll about what worries Americans most. The litany’s top top five doesn’t include the deteriorating international order, which should come as a relief to that insouciant White House spokesman, but neither does it include any good news for the Democrats.
Topping the list of most important problems is “immigration/illegal aliens,” which has shot up the charts since the recent invasion by unaccompanied minors from Central America, and the racist xenophobes of the Republican party are likely beneficiaries of the public’s concern. The Democrats and their media allies will have a hard time convincing anyone that the Republicans’ racism and xenophobia are what’s drawing tens of thousands of expensive illegal youngsters to the country, rather than the Democrats’ more compassionate and caring policy of holding out hope of amnesty and free stuff, and other polls indicate that most Americans are more inclined to the racist and xenophobic option of returning the invaders to their homelands.
Coming in a close second is the hodgepodge of “Dissatisfaction with government, Congress, politicians, poor leadership, corruption, Abuse of Power,” which is at least open to hopeful interpretations. The White House will prefer to read this as a righteous anger against those obstructionist Republicans in Congress who stubbornly refuse to rubber stamp the president’s agenda, but we expect that many respondents had in mind the Internal Revenue Service and Veterans Administration and National Security Agency scandals and any number of other problems that have more to do with the executive branch. Much of that dissatisfaction with Congress is caused by the Democrat-controlled Senate, too, and the Republicans in the other chamber don’t seem to have much power to abuse.
The “economy in general” comes in second and “unemployment, jobs” in third, and a sensible combination of these two would have probably come in first. The Democrats will argue that these problems could have been easily solved if only those darned Republicans had allowed them to rack up the national debt by a few more billion and add another million or so pages of regulations for the understaffed compliances offices of America’s corporations to comply with, but the Republicans should be able to get a few votes and a lot of laughs out of that.
“Poor healthcare, hospitals, high cost of health care” comes in fourth on the list, so the Republicans will have a head start on convincing the American public that Obamacare hasn’t solved all that. Despite an almost complete absence of news coverage, “federal budget deficit, federal” debt comes in at a surprisingly strong fifth place. The Democrats will boast that they’ve cut those deficits to less than the recent trillion dollar highs, even as they lambaste the Republicans for their stingy ways, but this far the public is not reassured. “Education, poor education, access” to education are the public’s sixth most pressing problem, and the teachers unions will need to spend a lot of dues money to convince any voters that they just need more funding and continued tenure and that federalized Common Core Curriculum to make things right at school. “Ethics, moral, religious, family decline” comes in eighth, and the party that would compel nuns to purchase contraceptives is not likely to appeal the people with those worries.
Democrats can take some hope in noting that “Poverty, hunger, homelessness” came in ninth, as these are the party’s traditional causes, but they’ll have to hope that nobody notices there’s more of all of them after six years of a Democratic presidency. It’s also good news for the Democrats that “foreign aid, focus overseas” barely made the top ten.
What’s missing from the top ten is also a problem for the Democrats. Only one percent of the poll’s respondents cited “race relations and racism” as the nation’s most pressing problem, and it’s probably a similar number who will take seriously the notion that racism is the sole reason for any dissatisfaction with the president. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision doesn’t rate any mention, even though it’s a staple of Democratic fund-raising and the Senate Democrats regard it as such a crisis that the First Amendment needs amending as a result. The Hobby Lobby decision is also unmentioned by any of the respondents, even though the Democrats are raising even more money with claims that it’s the first step toward the Republicans’ nefarious plot to subjugate women to bare feet and pregnancy. The even more nefarious plot by to Koch Brothers to do God only knows what was also overlooked, although that can cited by the fund-raising Democrats as further proof of how very ingeniously wicked is the conspiracy. We also note that income inequality and global warming and transgendered rights and all the other issues that seem to excite a certain sort of Democrat are not high on the list of what the general public is worried about.
We don’t have much regard for the general public, but is heartening to see that they have more sensible priorities than a certain sort of Democrat.

— Bud Norman

The Grand Tour

Way back in our younger days it was a widely accepted truism that only Nixon could go to China, but these days anyone with the airfare and cost of a decent hotel can do it. Even First Lady Michelle Obama, who can simply put the trip on the taxpayers’ ever-swelling tab, is currently on tour on in China.
First Ladies usually get the kid-glove treatment from the press, especially the First Ladies’ of Democrat presidents, and most especially the First Ladies’ of Democrat presidents who can claim some historic ethnic first or another, but this trip has garnered some unusually critical coverage. That’s partly because of Obama’s inexplicable decision to not bring along her usually adoring media groupies, partly because of the explanation that it’s a “non-political” trip makes the undisclosed but easily guessed-at price-tag seem all the more extravagant, and to no small extent because she has come across as what in our younger days was known as an ugly American.
Granted, the sneering coverage has come from British press that is always snarkier and less politically-correct than its American counterpart. The reliably conservative Telegraph headlined that because of the refined behavior of Chinese President Xi Jingping’s wife “China Claims Victory in Battle of First Ladies.” The even snarkier but less reliably conservative Daily Mail reported that the Obama entourage was racking up an $8,350-per-night lodging bill for their 3,400-square-foot suit, and that despite such amenities as a 24-hour butler the First Lady’s mother was driving the hotel staff to distraction with her constant demands and criticisms. The temptation to crack the inevitable mother-in-law jokes must have been difficult for the American press, but they resisted admirably and contented themselves with straight-forward coverage of Obama’s public pronouncements.
Even the most straightforward accounts could not help embarrassing to the First Lady, however. At one point Obama was lecturing the Chinese on the need to tolerate dissent and political criticism, noting with pride the unending tolerance she and her husband have for such lese majeste, but the reports’ failure to mention the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups or its vilification of prominent opponents was conspicuous. Other reports proudly quoted Obama urging the Chinese to undertake educational reforms, with USA Today adding that “she has won praise for her approachability and admiration for her comments supporting freedom of speech,” but surely only the most star-struck readers weren’t reminded of her husband’s obeisance to the teachers’ unions and opposition to charter schools or vouchers or any other serious educational reform. One hopes that the first kids are enjoying the pricey visit, and not proving too much a pain in the neck to the hotel staff, but otherwise it’s hard to see what the taxpayer is getting for his money in this visit.

— Bud Norman

Fifty Years After a Dream

Much has changed since Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, and the 50th anniversary observance held on Wednesday demonstrates how very much.
The original “March on Washington” drew an estimated million people to the city, with more than 100,000 of them packed into the National Mall to hear King and a distinguished roster of other speakers and performers, but despite the best efforts of the racial grievance industry only 20,000 or so showed up for a commemoration featuring the likes of the buffoonish Rev. Al Sharpton and the crackpot socialist priest Rev. Michael Fleger, who bravely suggested that young black men refrain from shooting one another for a day. Such glaring disparities reflect the difference between 1963, when racism was widely accepted by American society, codified in its laws, and enforced with frequent brutality, and today.
Although it would be an overstatement to say that King’s dream of a country where men and women are judged by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin, even the most aggrieved speakers were forced to concede that things have gotten better. Indeed, even the injustices they cited with an old-fashioned fervor proved the point. In 1963 an exceptional young scholar named Medger Evers was assassinated for attempting to enroll in such an unexceptional institution as the University of Mississippi, and fifty years later the only civil rights “martyr” they could cite was Trayvon Martin, a young thug who was shot while slamming a neighborhood watch volunteer’s head against the pavement. In 1963 blacks were routinely denied the right to vote by a variety of rules enforced throughout the southern states, and fifty years later the oft-repeated complaint was that many states throughout the country now require the same sorts of photo identification that are needed to cash a check, buy a beer, or get into the Justice Department to see the black Attorney General. In 1963 a hard-working and underpaid black woman was barred entry to American many stores, and fifty years later the speakers included a billionaire television celebrity who has recently groused that a store clerk was suspiciously reluctant to show her a $38,000 handbag during her recent trip to Sweden.
Fifty years after King’s dream is arguably the best of times and the worst of times in black America, as the brightest and most industrious of race have availed themselves of the opportunities created by the civil rights revolution to move into positions of power and affluent neighborhoods while leaving behind an underclass trapped in slums more brutal and dilapidated and hopeless than any of the segregated black s of the early ‘60s, but what’s left of the civil rights revolution is ill-positioned to comment on either. Any acknowledgement of the progress that has been made weakens the movement’s claim to victimhood, which is the source of its power, and any acknowledgement of the real problems that remain calls into question the most revered assumptions about the government’s role in setting things right.
President Barack Obama, a black man who has moved into the world’s most powerful position and most affluent neighborhood, cited the sobering statistics about black unemployment and family income as if he had been a hapless observer rather than the nation’s chief executive for the past five years. He didn’t mention the gap in educational achievement between blacks and whites, or the former group’s much higher rate of illegitimacy, even though both are the reasons for the disparities in employment and income, but the peculiar politics of race make those topics unmentionable. Fixing the public school that has spectacularly failed black America would require confronting the teachers and embracing such radical notions as the voucher programs that Obama has dutifully opposed, decrying out-of-wedlock births would lead to charges of racial insensitivity and theocratic moralizing, either would entail a criticism of the hip-hop culture that has been such a stalwart Democratic Party constituency, and starting such a discussion might lead people to realize that government policies he has long championed are largely responsible for both problems.
The world will little note nor long remember anything that was said at Wednesday’s rally, a nostalgic celebration of a time when liberalism occupied the moral high ground and didn’t have to confront the complex problems of today, but at least King’s speech still resonates.

— Bud Norman

A Resurrection Correction

With all due respect to Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Paul Krugman, and the other notable newspaper humorists who have plied the trade over the ages, the most reliable source of a good chuckle to be found in the American press has always been the corrections column of The New York Times. The latest howler ran on April Fool’s Day, aptly enough, and humbly acknowledged that “An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.”
This glaring mistake has already prompted considerable ridicule from the more conservative commentators, including one who was also reminded of the old joke about a man so stupid that he did not know what Easter is, but we feel obliged to say a forgiving word for the reporters who made the error and those fabled layers of editors at America’s putative paper of record who failed to correct it. Such astounding ignorance of the most basic tents of Christianity is quite common these days, and no longer confined to that highly-educated segment of the society from which the Timesmen are drawn.
The smart set seems especially prone to such obliviousness, though, which is a shame. Even if you regard Christianity as so much superstitious nonsense a familiarity with the religion is still necessary to understand the western civilization that it has done so much to form over the past couple of millennia. Aside from the enduring wisdom of the scriptures, which is widely acknowledged even by those who don’t buy into the supernatural aspects, the Bible is required reading for anyone who wants to appreciate much of the greatest art, literature, cinema, and all the other cultural forms that the educated once aspired to learn, as well as the beliefs that informed the founding of our system of government, and it’s even needed to understand the common idioms of the language. Another famously funny New York Times correction ran after a reporter quoted President Barack Obama’s allusion to the “Tower of Babble.”
Such high-placed ignorance of Christianity also has an unfortunate effect on the country’s politics. Too many people assume that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all the same Abrahamic hooey and thus fail to see the essential differences in the faiths, making a sensible debate about Islamist terrorism impossible even within the State Department. Traditional notions of morality that are associated with Christianity, such as disapproval of out-of-wedlock births, are casually dismissed as archaic even if their social benefits are well documented. A widespread public ignorance of religious beliefs is often exploited to portray people with longstanding beliefs rooted in a philosophy of love as hateful bigots, and even to force secular notions of morality on religious institutions.
Still, the Times’ lack of familiarity with Easter and other arcane aspects of Christianity is not surprising. The schools will no longer teach about the Bible even as an important literary and historical document, partly for fear of pesky litigation from those who are absolutists about the separation of church, partly because they prefer to preach the gospel of global warming, and except for that big hit series on cable the entertainment industry seems to have given up on the Biblical epic. About the only place to learn about religion is a church, and as any Times reader knows only the very low-brow go there.

— Bud Norman

Our Dumber World

A long-held suspicion of ours has at last been confirmed by science. Mankind truly is becoming dumber.
This welcome reassurance that we’re not crazy comes courtesy of the Natural Society’s web site, which reports on Stanford University geneticist Dr. Gerald Crabtree’s finding that “humans are losing cognitive capabilities and becoming more emotionally unstable.” The trend is so far advanced, Crabtree has written, “I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues.”
Alas, as we survey the contemporary scene it seems the good doctor is damning that long lost Athenian with faint praise. Although the article does not explain how genetics has proved the diminution of human intelligence, the sociological evidence abounds. The decline is especially apparent in cocktail party conversations about politics, but can also be found in the futile attempts to receive change from convenience store clerks, the proliferation of neck tattoos bearing the names of ex-spouses, the backwards ball caps and saggy britches that now pass for proper funeral attire, and any number of other encounters with the average citizen.
There’s a possibility that we are unusually unlucky in our encounters, but corroborating evidence of the decline of human intelligence can be found not only in the past election results but also in the most popular products of today’s popular culture. One needn’t go back to the age of Aeschylus to notice that the entertainment industry once believed it could expect a greater level of knowledge from its audience than the producers of modern reality shows and actions flicks would dare demand. The eminent pessimist Mark Steyn likes to point to the introductory lines of “Just One of Those Things,” in which Cole Porter assumes that the pop music listeners of his time would recognize a witty reference to Abelard and Heloise, the tragic literary lovers of the 12th Century, but an even better example of the better-educated audiences of the recent past might be a Looney Tunes cartoon from 1949 called “The Scarlet Pumpernickel,” which finds Daffy “Dumas” Duck in the midst of the French Revolution and hilariously pronouncing “Robespierre” with his distinctive spittle-spewing emphasis on the “p.” It’s a low-brow bit of humor, perhaps, but it’s in service of a rather sophisticated and surreal show-within-a-show-within-a-show plot that requires a familiarity with history one no longer anticipates when making high-brow art-house fare, much less a children’s cartoon. A friend recently related a conversation with some local college students who had seen the new movie about Abraham Lincoln, and he tells us that although they enjoyed the movie they were disturbed by the surprise ending when the main character got shot, which is about the level of education that a moviemaker should now accommodate.
Even the smart people of the modern age are dumber than the smart people of the past. The political class is exhibit A, of course, with academia close behind, but the decline is also apparent in the sciences and the arts. An amazing array of gizmos are constantly being created, but nothing so original and consequential as the printing press, steam engine, light bulb, or polo vaccine, and we can think of no one in the visual arts, theater, dance, or any other corner of high culture that is seriously compared to the towering figures of the past century. The letters of self-taught farmers and housewives in the 18th Century feature livelier prose than can be found in today’s best-sellers, and offer more honest and insightful accounts of their times than the dreary work of today’s highly educated journalists.
Crabtree attributes this decline to the diminishing effects of natural selection, as agriculture and then urbanization and industrialization allowed the stupid to survive and procreate, and while this seems reasonable enough it doesn’t explain the severe acceleration in the trend over the past 50 years or so. The writer for the Natural Society, being a natural kind of guy, blames pesticides, processed foods, and fluoridated water, but we’re inclined to think that enduring pests is dumb, processed foods seem not to have affected the atypical smart people we know, and we witness a great deal of stupidity while living in a town that has long been ridiculed for its steadfast rejection of fluoridated water.
We look to the culture, rather than genetic or chemical reasons, and especially the contemporary trend of the most dim-witted people being the most fecund. In his splendid satire “Idiocracy” the filmmaker Mike Judge envisions what society will look like after another 500 years of the high-IQ couples endlessly delaying parenthood while the low-IQ types reproduce like proverbial rabbits, and our only quibble with his scenario is that we don’t think it will take nearly so long for the America to reach the comically moronic level he depicts.
Crabtree doesn’t offer any solutions to the problem that he has identified, and neither do we, but these days one is doing well just to be aware.

— Bud Norman

Romney Goes to School

The most compelling argument for Mitt Romney’s candidacy is still Barack Obama, but we’re also liking the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s recent comments on education.

Speaking Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to an Hispanic small-business group called the Latino Coalition, Romney said that as president he would expand the capital’s voucher program and use federal funding to bring more school choice everywhere, but otherwise “reduce federal micromanagement” of local schools. He also named the teachers’ unions as the main impediment to education reform, and argued that Obama “has been unable to stand up to union bosses and unwilling to stand up for our kids.”

One paper speculated that the speech was intended to bolster Romney’s standing with Hispanics, while another characterized it as an appeal to women, but we expect the proposals will have a more universal appeal. We’re neither Hispanic nor female, but we’re nonetheless eager to see radical changes occur in the schools.

There are plenty of test scores and statistics proving the sorry state of American education, but just a brief chat with a randomly selected young person will likely provide more vivid proof. We’re frequently astonished to discover what our young acquaintances don’t know, and often even more alarmed to hear what they seem to truly believe they do know. Old folks have always grumbled similar complaints about the youngsters, of course, but they’ve been quite right about it for at least the past several decades, and we currently have no reason to believe that the dumbing-down of America won’t continue.

Fixing the problem will require cultural changes that are largely beyond the power of any president to affect, but allowing good teachers and good schools to succeed while forcing bad teachers and bad schools to go away would bring about a significant improvement. Romney is correct in saying that the teachers’ unions will mightily resist any reforms along those lines, because they’re reliably supportive of even their most incompetent members, and he’s also right about Obama and pretty much any other Democratic candidate assisting them in the effort.

We’d love to credit Romney with political courage for daring to take on the mighty teachers’ unions, but honesty compels us to concede that they were going to fight him furiously in any case. He’s probably also noticed that several governors, including such stalwarts as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, have lately taken on the once-invincible lobby and fared rather well. Teachers still enjoy a rather saintly reputation, which we attribute to many years of propaganda by Hollywood and popular fiction, but their unions don’t enjoy the same public affection.

Still, it’s nice to hear Romney picking the fight

— Bud Norman