Monday, December 29, 2008

Then and Now: A Few Old Posts Before I Retire This Blog and Move to My New Site

Here's where I started back in 2005.

The world is upside down.

You know it's true. It sometimes feels like we've morphed into an old Saturday Night Live Bizzaro World episode. Initiatives of the Bush administration are labeled the opposite of what they do (Clear Skies, No Child Left Behind, the Energy Bill/corporate giveaway, Social Security reform). The leader says that freedom's beautiful, then eradicates much of the Bill of Rights. Despite all evidence to the contrary, this (p)resident attacked a country which didn't attack us and claimed we were safer because of it. In Virginia, the candidate of Pat Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell alleges himself to be closer to Mark Warner than Warner's own partner, Lt. Governor Tim Kaine (ROTFL). And Jerry Kilgore, who purports to care about schools and fiscal responsibility, opposed every responsible step our governor and a bipartisan group of legislators achieved for Virginia's benefit.

As I've said before, you'd think we'd be used to it by now. And you'd think we wouldn't expect much else. We hold our president and, often, our lawmakers to such low standards. And so, when our leaders and pseudo-leaders tell us what we can do for them and not the other way around, one has to ask: Is everything upside down, never to be set upwards again? Upside down is what I'd call a caucus I attended this past spring where the one candidate spoke only of what we could do for him and not what he'd do for our state. But the worst culprit in recent memory is running for governor on the Republican ticket. Jerry Kilgore is full of ideas for how we can be on-our own and up the creek. Bush's on-your-ownership -- newer, fresher and uncut.

For the privilege, we are supposed to hire Kilgore to serve as His Honor, the Buck Passer. There's no tax he'd leave uncut. Just when Virginia is on more solid footing, he'd further gut state revenues by escalating the end of the car tax. He'd persist with that, he says, no matter what else the need. We'd have been there before.

Now Kilgore says he'd solve the problem of education with day-late-and-dollar-short provisions. He'd give a whopping 100 students engineering scholarships. His fund for teacher excellence is laughable in its simplicity and under-reaching. Worse, pay for performance (merit pay) is no magic bullet. Industry has used it for years, higher education for at least a decade. Where was Jerry? A bonus system for high-demand subjects? Been there; done that. Expand course offerings at community colleges? A new college for South-side? What's new? The Democrats before him are already on task. But I'll tell you what's new. SOL's, a tidy mechanism for more political mischief, will enable Jerry to put more low performing schools out of busintransferredtheir assets transfered to private companies rather than fix what's wrong. SOLs also provide the data that the Kilgore's of the world will no-doubt try to use to punish teachers (hence merit pay). The trouble is that teachers could be punished unfairly when their enrollments have disproportionate numbers of low-achieving students, students learning English as a second language, or students with special needs. Kilgore also has a plan to steer more public school dollars to private schools. Students going to private colleges would get more money--the old de-fund public colleges trick. It's all smoke and mirrors. Kilgore hopes we are too ignorant to read the fine print.

The biggest joke is that this man who thinks we should trust him to govern because, ya' know, he trusts us, plans to fold all tax increase decisions back on us, the voters. Already, with our part-time legislature, we have government by delay (no pun intended). In a Kilgore government, we'd have referenda for money decisions, government by the AWOL. He gets paid; we decide. But Jerry Kilgore would solve the problem of alleged big government (did you ever notice that nationally government is largest under Republicans?) with truly intrusive government: meddle in everyday private matters, end of life decisions, even medical decisions. But feeding the hungry, schools, health care, senior care, mental health, hey, that's "big government."

Honestly, with so-called leaders like this, who needs a governor. I am not a government nihilist. I believe there is an important role of government to play. We can't do everything a society needs ourselves. And there's an important regulatory role, as the reckless de-regulators have shown us. But a Kilgore government would be worse than nothing. It would be government upside down. And the average Harry and Harriet the Homeowner, already beleaguered, will come to believe they've died and gone to hell.

Leadership and government function best when they are dual-path. The direction should flow back and forth from leaders to followers. That's because leadership is an interactive process. Leaders affect followers and vice verse. Getting the grassroots involved is normally a good thing. But leadership by poll-taking isn't leadership at all. To expect voters to micromanage government is just one more way to overburden voters. Already we must serve as our own gas station attendant, U-Scan checker at the supermarket, travel agent, online retail clerk, delivery person, medical advocate, prescription drug expert (to protect ourselves from inflated claims by drug companies), retirement planner, dietician, computer and internet tech support, even journalist because the so-called MSM has failed us. How much more on-your-ownership can we take? The bottom line is that job enlargement like this is not job enrichment. And it's not fulfilling or democratizing. It overwhelms. And, given the directions the Republicans are taking this country, people are overwhelmed enough without hiring an empty suit for governor. His default leadership would bring administrative, legislative, fiscal, economic, and humanitarian default to Virginia once again. We'll see how much he trusts the people when we send him packing.