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  • The Contradictory Nature of Conservatism

    • Posted on May 05, 2016
    I wrote this some eleven years ago, and evidently scrapped it; don't think it was published at the time.  Re-reading it now, it seems to hold up well, and as we witness the utter collapse of conservatism under the guidance of Donald Trump, it rings true.   

    Conservatives want smaller government, but still expect to be protected and defended by a strong standing army/air force/navy/marines/coast guard.  

    They also know that the federal government helps protect the food supply, and has a hand in detecting and preventing deadly epidemics.  Oh yes, they believe that upholding public morality is important, so regulating the media does have a role.  

     And they appreciate quality state education, though they might like to change it to fit their religious beliefs more than a secular government would allow.  They know how expensive private schools can be, so none call for national privatization of public schools.  

     They’d like to be able to drive or fly safely to any destination in the country safely and relatively cheaply, and that requires good roads as well as national oversight of the airlines, particularly when it comes to safety.  

    Oh yes, there’s social security, meaning some kind of assurance that old age doesn’t mean penury.  And Medicaid, which keeps medication costs from sending us all to the poorhouse. 

     All government programs, all costly, all to be continued.  So conservatives want smaller government, but no fewer services.  Ask a conservative what they would get rid of to cut government spending, and you end with a very short list. We’d still have a military, still government standards for food safety and water quality. We’d still have state schools both for grades 1-12, and they must know that our public universities remain the envy of the world.  

    As is the scientific research done at them, much of it funded by the federal government.  Because Americans have gotten so used to government providing so many critical services, from education to safe food to a large military, conservatives don’t seem to know how much they get from it.

     Like air to humans and water to fish, government is everywhere, so it’s taken for granted. In fact, here’s the dirty little secret behind conservatives’ anti-government rants:  they’re actually raving liberals by standards of just a few years ago. Few 1950s conservatives would have dreamed of the need for a pervasive and strong government in a globally-oriented world economy, not to mention a terrorist-threatened world.  

     Except for hot-button social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and prayer in schools, today’s conservatives would seem rabidly liberal to 1950s conservatives,
    So though these conservatives can’t have a much smaller government, they yearn for it like their recent ancestors yearned for separation of the races, women keeping their place in the home, and a white-male dominated world.  

    We’ve moved beyond those too, thanks to liberal reforms, all of which conservatives fought--and lost. 

     Do any contemporary conservatives want women to stay out of the workplace? Would they now argue for segregation, as they once did so fervently?  Would they insist that blacks and whites not marry, as they once railed against “miscegenation” (interracial marriages) with as much fervor as they now outlaw gay marriages? 

     Of course not.  Such conservatives have long disappeared; we’ll all liberals now, no matter how much they might protest to the contrary.  That might explain why they’re so bitter and angry; except for a few outbuildings, they’ve lost the whole farm.     

     Of course conservatives still walk among us, but they mostly rant about secularism, about issues that they see threatening their beliefs, and about those demon liberals who seem to oppose such beliefs. 

     The major difference between liberals and conservatives these days?  Conservatives tend to base their arguments on black-and-white distinctions and demonizing the opposition, while liberals see complexities, gray areas, and mostly avoid name-calling and button-pushing, Al Franken excepted for his book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Liar.”   

     In a culture dominated by religion and the visual media, emotional demonizing will trump reason and facts every time.  

     Conservatives even admit this approach as a strategy.  In a review of Richard Viguerie and Richard Frankes’ book “America’s Right Turn,” conservative reviewer Diana Feygin points out that  “While conservatives have basically been able to say, 'This is good. This is evil. There is no in between . . .liberals have been more hesitant to identify the good and "vilify the bad" in such stark terms.  
    Shades of “evil empire” and “axis of evil,” by Presidents Reagan and GW Bush, not to mention the ugly ranting of the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs of the nasty-wing conservatives.  

     Reviewer Fegin even admits that this all-pervasive and effective conservative strategy could bring the downfall of conservatives.  She ends her review with this: “ a reliance on muckraking to shame the 'bad guys' creates risks of its own. In the end, too much "black and white" victim rhetoric could bring to a premature defeat the movement Viguerie and Franke worked so painstakingly to establish.” 

     Given the fact that most of the liberal causes of a few years ago have already occurred, conservatives have nowhere to go but down and out.  

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  • Happy Ending At Last in Cedar Falls

    • Posted on Apr 10, 2016
    This morning's (April 10) Courier column on the Cedar Falls School Bond election last Tuesday.  Good news and a happy ending for a change.   

    Cedar Falls Bond supporters finally got good news last Tuesday.  Their perseverance won.   

    Two previous bond proposals did not—in September, 2014 for 118 million, and June last year for 35 million. The winner last week was for 32 million.  Three million seemed to make the difference.  

     Well, only partly.  The cost to taxpayers was about the same.  

     Actually, the community seemed to change its mind.  Elementary enrollments are increasing, making overcrowding inevitable.  Also schools are visibly deteriorating. 

     You don’t want your schools looking third world, as though public support were unavailable.   Worse, if public support is available but not given, it shows a community turning its back on itself.       

     Yet this time, even hard-core naysayers like Judd Saul, who was loudly and vocally against the first two referendums, supported it.  His reasoning, according to one report, came down to the school using 8 million in its reserve funds. The actual cost will be forty million, with bond funds only covering 32 million.  

     So even to naysayers like Saul it seemed like good money management. 
    When I heard this bare-bones proposal had passed, I breathed a sigh of relief.   If it hadn’t passed with the needed supermajority, those of us who care about public education would have gone into despair mode.  
    A loss would have put naysayers in charge, making any real progress all but impossible.  More classes in trailers.   More jammed-up school hallways filled with storage containers. Larger classes, lower teacher morale.  Public education in decline. 

     A deteriorating school system sits right next to a deteriorating infrastructure as visible signs of community decline.  

     When you visit a city as a possible new home, you want to see signs that it’s taking care of itself.  Badly potholed roads, shuttered buildings—College Square, anyone?—bode ill, and deteriorating schools reveal a community that no longer bothers.     

     However, in Cedar Falls, a vibrant downtown Main Street, a saved historic Depot, and as of last Tuesday, a renovating school system, make it all go together. 

     Repairs, remodeling schools, and construction of a new elementary school mean citizens still want a community that cares about its future.   

     And yes, the current repair of University Avenue sits right up there as a sign that yes-sayers are still in charge.  

    Roundabouts are coming here, and in a decade we’ll all be thankful.  The larger world out there happily uses roundabouts, after all.    

     Condition of a school system and roads reveal the future of a city, now and always.  Cedar Falls has some of the best-run and best-regarded schools in the state, and good schools attract families more than most other community features, I wrote in 2014 in support of the first bond issue.  

    In fact, I did despair after that first loss, and immediately contributed to the school system as a token of support.   

     A hearty thanks to Superintendent Andy Pattee, the Cedar Falls School Board, and all the yes voters who look to a positive community future.    

     As a former student and resident of Cedar Falls wrote when he saw the good news:  “The covenant has been nurtured.”   


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