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Hullabaloo


Thursday, February 14, 2013

 
What about the children?

by digby

To hell with them. At least that's always been the GOP approach to universal pre-school. Rick Perlstein tells the depressing tale:
The breakthrough research on the payoffs to investment in "universal pre-K" was done by a Nobel Prize-winning economist named James Heckman of the University of Chicago—and Heckman is, fundamentally, a prototypical University of Chicago economist, a neoclassicist. So it's a "conservative," market-based idea, right? Like cap and trade. Like the "individual mandate" in health insurance. So how could conservative Republicans object?

Right. You see where I'm going with this.
As he noted earlier in the piece, the current scheme set forth by President Obama is a prototypical "compromise" that has us creating ridiculous private-state-local "partnerships" along with "incentives" and "credits" and a bunch of other nonsensically inefficient ways to deliver a service that people need. Twenty-five years ago the Democrats threw in the towel on any kind of direct government program and adopted this clunky system as the only way to help citizens. And yet, inevitably, the Republicans still reject these scheme more often than not.  One might begin to think they are opposed to "universal" anything, no matter how it's delivered, even if it's for tiny children.

But the Democrats remain committed to this path in spite of the fact that it rarely works very well and that's only in the rare case they get something passed. That, Rick says, is what's very likely to happen with this pre-school plan.

The preschool backlash is one of the oldest stories in the history of "New Right" organizing. A bill proposing a national system of nursery schools, under the authorship of Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, was on a glide-path to passage in 1971. "Backed by Demorats, Republicans, and a highly mobilized set of interest organizations," historian Kimberly J. Morgan has written, "the bill's middle-class appeal made it seem like a political sure bet in the months preceding the the 1972 election season."

The experts agreed: what could go wrong?

Then came a visitation from a new political planet: the nascent "family values" right.

A young University of South Carolina graduate named Connie Marshner accepted a job in 1971 on Capitol Hill as a secretary for Young Americans for Freedom. Quietly, on her off hours, according to historian Leo Ribuffo, she transformed herself into an expert on a bill she decided was the quintessential example of the "therapeutic state invading the home." Wrote Ribuffo, "Marshner established a letterhead organization and sent out mailings denouncing Mondales bill to local church women. To her own surprise this small effort prompted hundreds of thousands of letters to the White House." Nixon vetoed the bill—with a speech that precisely tracked the nascent religious right rhetoric on the family: its good intentions, he said, were "overshadowed by the fiscal irresponsibility, administrative unworkability, and family-weakening implications of the system it envisions...our response to this challenge must be...consciously designed to cement the family in its rightful position as the keystone of our civilization."

Civilization having been preserved—for the time being—Mashner claimed credit, began making the mobilization of "little clusters of mainly...evangelical, fundamentalist Mom's groups" her life's work, then got a job as head the new Heritage Foundation's education department, and was soon in Kanawha County, helping organize the textbook wars there.

Mondale's plans and Obama's are as different as night and day: the 1971 law really did establish federal daycare centers; the Obama legislation will surely push some byzantine scheme to distance the federal money from the local implementation as much as humanly possible, insulating it from any conceivable charge he has in mind Maoist-style mind-control camps for three year olds. So, home free, right? Well, if you believe that, I've got an Obama death panel to sell you right here. And a contraption exemption for religious employers.
This is a fool's game, which some of us recognized back in the mid 90s when Clinton was working the whole thing hard and basically got nowhere. It's not about government per se. It's about government competing with the religious domination of the private sphere (and, by extension, the patriarchal domination of the family and the work-place.) But I'm going to guess that the president and other establishment Democrats have become committed to this nonsense on the merits. After all, Barack Obama seemed to genuinely believe in it during the campaign of 2008:

"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."

Until liberals really understand what this is really about (which they can easily do by reading Perlstein and Corey Robin) all their attempts to make government insure fundamental opportunity and security to its people will be met with resistance from the right, no matter how "entrepreneurial" and "dynamic" the plan. That's because it's a threat to what they see as the natural order and they will not give that up without a fight.

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