Sunday, February 27, 2005

Liberals and local control

Last month, I was annoyed at Idaho's move in the courts to fight NCLB with a "local control" argument. I came across this editorial from the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman which helped crystallize my problems with liberals or conservatives using local control arguments. When conservatives use it, they're making an irrelevant argument. When liberals use it, they're irrelevant and dishonest. From Chapman:

For the last 70 years, conservatives and liberals have argued whether assorted powers should be centralized in Washington or entrusted to the states. The debate is still going on, but with a strange twist. Somewhere along the line, the two factions switched sides. The result is like watching a version of "The Odd Couple" in which Jack Lemmon is the slob and Walter Matthau is the neat freak.

People who cheered the expansion of federal power under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal have suddenly rediscovered that the Constitution assigns many prerogatives to state governments. Last week, a task force of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group long seen as unsympathetic to conservatives, issued a report roundly criticizing the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act.

Among the complaints were many of the same ones made by Democrats in last year's presidential primaries. The act, it concluded, lacks adequate funding, relies on misguided measures of progress, sets unreasonable requirements for teacher training, and conflicts with other federal and state laws. But the report also leveled a surprising charge: that it violates the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.

If you're not familiar with that amendment, don't feel bad. Neither is the U.S. Supreme Court. The amendment says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." But since the 1940s, those words have been interpreted to mean anything but what they say.

In practice, and in legal theory, the 10th Amendment became as obsolete as powdered wigs and wooden teeth. Only a small group of conservative and libertarian legal mavericks has argued for taking it seriously.

Now, however, the National Conference of State Legislatures upholds a position that, a few years ago, would have had liberals hooting with laughter: "The Task Force does not believe that No Child Left Behind is constitutional under the 10th Amendment, because there is no reference to public education in the U.S. Constitution." Liberals are not jeering now, but applauding.

Local control usually is no more than an argument made by people who don't like what the central government is doing. I'm not going to fall for that. We do need national standards for our schools. What if a state says they're not going to educate their poorest citizens? Or they're going to privatize education? Then will the liberals arguing for local control continue to do so? I doubt it. A strong and vigorous national government is essential in all of the most important public policy debates.

Now, the Constitution is the basis for our government, so I'm not suggesting we simply throw out the 10th Amendment. The federal government needs to tread lightly in areas where states have traditionally held control. (The Bush Administration is known for many things, treading lightly is not among them.)

Chapman really hits the point in the second graf, though: liberal Democrats, including myself, love the New Deal. Where's the constitutional right to establish social security? The answer: there is none. The founding fathers could not have foreseen the Great Depression, nor could they have foreseen the establishment of an education system that attempts to teach 55 million students.

Oh, and don't forget, we will get the White House back one day, so let's not burn our bridges. Let's not argue local control now only to regret it later on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay - i am confused. Are you a conservative who wants big government? If so, this is part of what is wrong with the country. One, we no longer have a two party system. Two, the constitution is being completely ignored. (The government was suppose to do a few basic things - primarily provide security, not everything it does now. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.) Three the government is too big. People are too dependent upon the government for the next handout. This country is fiscally bankrupt. We need big changes - smaller government, more state and local control, people taking responsibility for their lives, including their education. Families need to be strengthen -- the extended family needs to be brought back together again to be the back stop when people run into tough times.

Sorry to rant, but I would really like you to reconsider your statement about big government and the 10th amendment.

I enjoy your blog -- you make me think. Today, I just had to comment.

Thank you --


2:50 AM  
Blogger Mike in Texas said...

This is off your subject but have you been banned from Joanne Jacobs? I noticed she took down the link to your website and now my home IP seems to be banned from her site, as I cannot log in and post comments.

4:09 PM  

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