An angry republic

So many bullets flew in Tuscon, Arizona on Saturday. A little girl died. Grandparents died. Someone’s future husband died. A judge died on his way home from church. A congresswoman was crippled and maimed while meeting with her constituents in a grocery store parking lot. Isn’t that sad?

That horror sounds very sad to me. So why have I felt so angry?

The political right in this country is angry because the duly and lawfully elected president has implemented policy that is somewhat left of center.

The political left in this country is angry because the political right uses inflammatory and violent rhetoric that certainly intimidates people and possibly influenced a lunatic who was bent on violence.

The political right is even more angry because the political left says they should tone down their rhetoric.

Do you see a pattern here? It goes back and forth like a tennis match. And it just won’t stop.

I’ve been angry for a few days at people who talk about bullets and ballots and use rifle crosshairs on maps. I’ve been angry with radio talkshow hosts blubbering about how people like me are happy that this happened because it gives us a chance to attack right-wingers. I’ve been angry at people who refuse to consider thoughts like, “Hey, maybe I should stop demonizing people who disagree with me.”

But after listening to President Obama talk tonight, I feel really, really sad. And that’s so much harder to deal with than being angry.

It’s so easy to be angry. It feels kind of good to hate something. You let it all out. You let all the bad feeling flow through you and at someone else.

It’s so much harder to feel sad. It’s hard to let yourself feel the pain. To take it in and deal with it. It’s hard to think about that little girl who died because some lunatic had so much hate pouring out of him. It’s hard to feel sad for her because it can hurt. But maybe hurting like that is good for you. Maybe it teaches you a lesson.

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The Department of Education

Yikes! The Republican Party wants to kill the U.S. Department of Education. What are we going to do!

Think Progress, a popular liberal blog that I follow regularly, claims that 111 Republican Congressional incumbents and candidates have expressed support for abolishing the Department of Education. This story is part of a series Think Progress is publishing on legislation that might emerge if Republican’s take back Congress.

I’m sorry, but this just isn’t an issue. Such legislation would never pass. And even if it did, President Obama would veto it.

Also, why should we care? Think Progress takes it for granted that its readers know that the Department of Education (ED — yes the Department’s acronym is ED. DoE was taken by the Department of Energy) is essential. It’s got the word “education” in its name so it must be good, right? The country needs education, so why abolish it?

What I’d appreciate in an article like this is a little bit of what we journalists like to call the “nut graf,” the paragraph that forms the core of a story and tells a reader why he should care. It’s also referred to as the who, what, where, why and how of a story. Why should we care about the ED? What would happen if it were abolished? What the heck does the ED do?

I’d say that the average voter has very little idea what the Education Department does. They just know it’s a $60 or $70 billion bureaucracy that “intrudes” on individual states’ efforts to administer education. Only, the ED doesn’t really have the power to do that. It doesn’t set curricula in this country. It doesn’t set rules for budgeting education. It doesn’t set standards for teachers. It doesn’t even manage accreditation of primary, secondary or post-secondary education institutions.

What does it do? It disburses federal education grants and scholarships. It manages federal student loans. It enforces privacy and civil rights laws in the context of education. It collects statistics on education in the country. That’s about it.

What about in terms of the GOP’s so-called fiscal conservatism? In the grand scheme of things, the ED’s 5,000 employees and $60-70 billion budget are a drop in the bucket. You could cut the budget by 100% and the deficit would still be measured in trillions.

Instead of being on the defensive and assuming that the ED is a sacred cow that deserves our unquestioning support, perhaps Think Progress should ponder whether we need the ED in its current form. Maybe the GOP is right. Maybe we should kill it. And then replace it with something else with a stronger mandate. I say we should be doing more, not less.

I think this country needs a centralized education system more than ever before. Math and science education is critical to the future of the economy and yet our schools struggle to instruct students on these subjects.

We’re leaving this policy up to the individual states? Fifty individual bureaucracies, some of which are headed by elected ideological gasbags (Exhibit number one, the Texas’ State Board of Education, which wastes its time trying to ferret out “pro-Islamic bias” in textbooks). The current ED’s mandate is very limited in scope, because Republicans opposed its creation from the start. Republicans say there is nothing about an education department in the Constitution. I don’t think there was any mention of the Department of Energy or the Department of Housing and Urban Development in there, either.

I say the ED should be doing more, not less. Instead of defending its turf, the Democrats should be rallying for  stronger federal role in education. Go on the offensive for once. Hammer the Republicans who want to kill the ED and emphasize that we should be doing more for education at the federal level. That’s what Think Progress should be advocating.  It kneejerk defense of the ED is preaching to the converted. Instead, this article should be pointing out how the ED could be doing more to reinvent education in our country. Maybe that would give some moderates and independents a reason to go to the polls on Tuesday. They need a reason, and articles like this gem from Think Progress just don’t cut it.