Thursday, July 22, 2004

Don't Worry, Be Happy, and Prepare to Die
Last weekend, Dick Cheney gave a speech somewhere suggesting that the presidential campaign is a contest between hope and negativity. That's quite the laff riot coming from one of the most consistently negative figures ever to occupy high office in America--but it gets at a fundamental truth about the way Americans vote for a president. MSNBC blowhard Chris Matthews has said that Americans like to vote for the candidate with the sun in his face--in other words, the one who makes them feel good about the future. It's one of the things that concerned people about Howard Dean--and it's one of the great positives John Edwards brings to the Democratic ticket. And so the Bush campaign takes great pains to cast itself as the party of the bright future--peace and prosperity, lions lying down with lambs, etc. But they walk a tightrope, because at the same time, the administration is forever reminding people how much danger we're in from evildoers. It's hard to seem sunny when you are reminding people that they could be blown up by Islamic fanatics at any moment, or that the fundamental underpinnings of their culture are being washed away by Will and Grace. So Cheney's talk of how positive the Bush administration is doesn't stand up to common sense--or to more systematic forms of analysis, either. Clinical psychologist Renana Brooks examined Bush's State of the Union speeches and his statements in the 2000 presidential debates, and found that Bush is the most negative of our recent presidents--and furthermore, that he uses language designed to encourage Americans to feel "learned helplessness." Unlike FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan, who gave Americans bad news and then said "We're going to fix it and here's how," Bush uses rhetoric that makes Americans feel there's no way they can solve the nation's problems. Only Bush and his party can save us--not our own resolve, not the Democrats, not even the Constitution--thus reinforcing the need to vote for him and only him if the country is to be saved.

Nevertheless, in Bush country people will tell you that Bush's optimism and faith in the future are unswerving. Rick Perlstein of the Village Voice took a trip to Portland, Oregon, recently, to attend a Bush/Cheney campaign house party and talk to the faithful. His story is titled "The Church of Bush", and there's no denying that's where these people worship. They believe in Bush no matter what, even when confronted with evidence that directly contradicts their beliefs. That's not a rational political decision, that's a religious faith.

Recommended Reading: Alternet has a report from Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the impact of No Child Left Behind on special education. I'm not sure how old it is--the post date is July 13, but it says that Rod Paige called the American Federation of Teachers a terrorist organization "last month"--which would make the piece a year old. No matter, though--the frontline tales of the long-term effect NCLB is going to have on schools in general and special education in particular make clear that the bureaucrats who designed the law were utterly unfamiliar with the Law of Unintended Consequences--and if they'd set out to do irreparable harm to the public school system, they couldn't have designed a much more efficient system to do it.

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