In his final column on the editorial pages of the New York Times, neo-conservative Bill Kristol unhappily conceded that with the election of Barack Obama, America has now seen “the end of the conservative era.” But his fellow “true believers” in the laissez-faire market who inhabit the world of education — the edu-cons — seem intent upon living in the past.
The edu-market fundamentalists have been making themselves into quite a spectacle in recent days, as they respond to the stimulus package that has begun to take shape in Washington DC. Unchastened by the fact that it was the policies that they pushed for the last quarter century — deregulation and privatization, unfettered and uncontrolled markets — which got us into this hole, they now proclaim that we need more of “the hair of the dog that bit us” as a remedy to one nasty economic hangover. Who cares that the stimulus package is all that stands between America and a depression? “Bring it on,” they chant in unison, in an echo of George Bush’s fated approach to Iraq.
Jay Greene [of the United Cherry Pickers] compares the stimulus package to Dorothy clicking her heels in the Wizard of Oz [perhaps he was unduly influenced by the theory that the story was a parable of populism, directed against finance capital]. The acolytes of Milton Friedman at the Cato Institute’s blog are so outraged at the thought that some stimulus package funds might go to public education that they propose burning the money instead. The Fordham Foundati0n’s Mike Petrilli took valuable time away from his all-consuming blog vendetta against Linda Darling-Hammond to proclaim ‘the horror, the horror’ at the idea that stimulus package funds might be used to hold public schools “harmless” from “budget cuts.” Why? Because, in Petrilli’s book, cuts to public schools are a good thing. On a similar note, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute declares that providing public education with stimulus funds is “like an alcoholic at the end of the night when the bars close, and the solution is to open the bar for another hour.”
Since we seem to have embarked on drinking metaphors, let us simply say that Hess and his edu-con compatriots are reminiscent of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in the decades after the end of prohibition — true believers unable to reconcile themselves to the fact that their political moment has come and gone. Were it not for the serious economic consequences of failing to enact a stimulus plan, this sort of discourse could be seen as quaint, a Harold Stassenesque moment for the 21st century. But the stakes are too real.