Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No bright lines 

In a comment on something I wrote about Mark Kennedy and free trade last week, Tony suggested we shouldn't look too hard at candidates' websites for positions on issues. They are usually vacuous. But Craig finds much in Patty Wetterling's education position -- much not to like, and in some ways endorses the kind of advice that Tony points out is why most issues pages of candidates are gauzy eye candy.
Wetterling�s basic education position is that the federal government should play a significant role in education policy, funding and even content. If I had a �Dump Wetterling� mentality I�d Photoshop her tearing up the constitution. I�d demand to know if Patty Wetterling endorses tyranny where the federal government dictates what every person will study. I�d demand to know if she supports every position of teacher�s unions (Does she support high-cost school supplies resulting from a Wal-Mart boycott?) and the blatant socialism of Marc Tucker (of �Dear Hillary� fame). That�s the way Michele Bachmann is attacked.

However, I don�t for a second think that Wetterling holds any of those views. And frankly I don�t care who supports her, other than as a directional indicator. Her philosophical direction is clear. All of what she proposes is well-intentioned, some of her ideas are good (the implementation method is at question), but then so was the building of the Bridge over the River Kwai.

Wetterling�s positions, regardless of immediate intentions, move us along the path to federal dominance of education -- not just policy, but now content. While advocating federal involvement in education, Wetterling sets no logical limit on that involvement. If the government can target science and math for special attention, then why not at some point human genetic engineering? Maybe that master race thing isn�t such a bad idea after all?

This is a dangerous position, not just for what it says, but because it has immediate appeal for people looking for simplistic feel-good approaches to complex problems. It wasn�t until the good guys started dying that well-intentioned Col. Nicholson realized that maybe building a bridge for the enemy to cross the Kwai wasn�t the best way to build his troops� morale. His dying words �What have I done?� I submit, play very well examining Wetterling�s education position.
In short, Wetterling and Bachmann have displayed a bright line on education policy in terms of philosophy -- one for reliance on professionals, the other for reliance on parents.

I know I'll be skewered for what I am about to say, but it bears saying: If you consider Wetterling's personal tragic history, it is easy to see how faith in collective, centralized action would be the lesson she draws. The message from most child abduction cases is one of vulnerability, which leads to demands for greater public safety, more power concentrated in fewer hands charged with the responsibility of looking out for children. It would take an individualist of the firmest beliefs to go through the absolute horror her family did and not be pulled towards the thought that parents need help from society to raise their children safely. And if you think it's needed for child safety, it is a very short walk to thinking you need greater help from society to educate children.

This is not to critique Wetterling's character in any way: I admire her determination to build something out of tragedy; only a cad would gainsay it. But tragedy doesn't necessarily turn you into a champion for limited government. Sometimes, it can make you quite the opposite.

It is for this reason, I think, that the Wetterling campaign might be wise to take Tony's advice to "Keep the answers/issues vague." In the relatively conservative 6th CD, bright lines are unlikely to be helpful to her. That's why the GOP keeps trying to goad her into drawing them.