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Delusion and Negligence: The Two-Party System in the US

P.L. Thomas: Who lost the debate? The partisan public.

With Twitter, texting, and hundreds of cable stations surrounding me, my goal last night was a Herculean one: Avoid at all costs the waste that was the so-called presidential debates.

I’ve now crested the first half of a century and am sliding into whatever portion of the second half this existence allows me. On the other side of 50, I have vocally joined the late George Carlin in my public denouncing of both political parties, a problematic thing to do for someone associated with the Left. While we may have stereotyped (accurately) conservatives and Republicans as intolerant, few wraths are trumped by a Democrat/progressive scorned.

In the last few years, I have also come to recognize a joint failure between Democrat/Republican politics and the dichotomous educational leadership shared by traditionalists and progressives: The faux-debate between the delusional and the negligent (or as Ben Folds Five would call it, the battle of who could care less).

Delusion and Negligence: The Faux-Battle of Who Could Care Less

While the education reform battle is a distinct microcosm of the larger Republican/Democrat two-party dichotomy-that-is-no-dichotomy, the education reform tension is a perfect and even clearer manifestation of the qualities defining how the two-party political system fails the public, democracy, and the never-ending pursuit of equity among all people.

The education reform debate (ERD) and two-party system (TPS) are not ideological or evidence-based arguments along a spectrum, but two sides of the same coin—and that coin is corporate-beholden privilege. Thus, there is no real debate in either the ERD or the TPS (to have genuine debate, both or all sides must have some degree of power; those speaking against education reform currently have no power, thus no debate), but there is perpetual false tension. And that tension is calculated to keep the corporate-beholden privileged in their positions of leadership and everyone else wrestling within the faux-battle so few (or none) of the 90% have a free moment to notice how the privileged thrive at the expense of everyone else.

For one brief example from the ERD, the 90% in education are now scrambling (and arguing) how to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). That false tension over how allows the privileged leadership to mask the more important why and what: Why do we need new, national standards, and just what problem do those standards address?

CCSS implementation keeps the 90% frantically implementing, implementing, implementing (and generating revenue for textbook and testing corporations)—instead of recognizing the loss of their autonomy, and the historical disregard for student agency.

Though Republicans/traditionalists and Democrats/progressives are different sides of the same corporate-beholden coin of privilege, this does not mean there are no differences; in fact, the differences are stark in their shared failure.

In both the ERD and the TPS, Republicans/traditionalists are delusional. This side of the coin believes in and trusts the invisible hand of the free market and chants hollow mantras such as “poverty is not destiny” and “no excuses.” Myths of rugged individualism, upward mobility, and American exceptionalism fuel their delusion—and not a shred of evidence to the contrary can budge those deluded from their faith.

Democrats/progressives are distinct, however, on the other side of the coin in the ERD and the TPS as negligent. The American Left often swims in the same ponds of delusion as Republicans/traditionalists, and as the current ERD shows, it is often nearly impossible to distinguish the Right from the Left (“poverty is not destiny” and “no excuses” carry tremendous weight for both traditional and progressive educational leadership and policy makers). But the progressive Left in the U.S. has enough history of acknowledging inequity (the march for women’s rights, the Civil Rights Movement) to discredit calling that Left delusional—thus, negligent.

Possibly the weakest minority in the U.S. remains the radical, neither delusional nor negligent, but powerless and silenced. We have evidence of those radicals—Howard Zinn, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr.—but even when we raise their radical words and actions against the corporate coin of privilege, those words are discounted, deflected, and often replaced by cartoon versions more palpable to the ruling elite (consider how King is quoted by both of the TPS, how King is taught in school).

Since Twitter wouldn’t allow me to remain walled off from the first presidential debate of 2012, I am aware that some have noted that the P word wasn’t uttered by either of the suits posing as debaters last evening (just as no question was raised about the cost of those suits and how that matters against the evidence of income inequity in 2012).

The delusional suit didn’t claim “poverty is not destiny,” and the negligent suit didn’t see the rising number of children and families in poverty behind the mass of middle-class voters.

Who lost the debate? It is each of us—especially the partisan public who are spending the day scrambling to justify their guy by calling out every flaw in the other guy.

In the battle of who could care less, Romney and Obama score a tie, and it certainly goes well with their identical corporate suits.

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