What Aren’t Your Kids Learning About America?

Conservative critics of left-wing bias in public education have noshortageofhorrorstoriesto make their point, such as Tanya Dixon-Neely, the North Carolina teacher who is keeping her job despite getting caught on tape in May berating a student for criticizing Barack Obama and telling the class they could get arrested for bad-mouthing their presidents.
But the more pervasive danger to future generations’ political understanding is subtler than outright indoctrination. Even when teachers aren’t out to push an agenda, social studies courses tend to take a superficial approach that may relay key historical events adequately, but provides only the most superficial understanding of the theories and values behind them, if at all.
Don’t believe me? Here are a few simple questions you can ask your kids to judge for yourself just how well served they’ve been in their Social Studies classes:
1.) Who was John Locke, and what did he contribute to the Founding? Despite dying seventy-two years before the Declaration of Independence, the great English philosopher could be thought of as the first Founder, since his writings established the natural right and social compact theories at the Declaration’s heart. Thomas Jefferson’s formulation that “ all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” is basically the Cliff Notes version of Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, which proposed consent as government’s only moral justification because nobody has a divine claim over anyone else, protecting individual rights as government’s just purpose, and developed a rational basis for objectively defining what is and is not a right.
2.) What is the significance of the Federalist Papers? Written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay to persuade the new nation to adopt the Constitution, there is no more authoritative guide to our government—and yet, to most students, it’s a footnote at best. They’re denied some of the Founders’ most important lessons, like Federalist 10on the dangers of faction (groups “ actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to…the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”), Federalist 45 on the difference between federal and state roles (“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite”), Federalist 51 on human nature’s implications for politics (“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary”), or the papers’ extensive analysis of the vital difference between direct democracy and the constitutional republic America was designed as. The Federalist Papers reveal that there’s careful thought and important purpose behind every aspect of our Constitution, yet the average high-schooler is likely to graduate with the impression that constitutional mechanics like the Electoral College, separation of powers, and bicameralism were either mere products of sectional compromise or the outdated fallacies of old, white elites.
3.) How did the Founders treat slavery? Conventional wisdom paints the Founders as simply hypocrites who proclaimed liberty for themselves while denying it to blacks. But while the stain of slavery on our history is real, our forefathers’ indifference on the subject is not. Slaveholders held enough power to keep the practice alive, but the Founders overwhelmingly opposed and condemned it. Consider the Three-Fifths Compromise. Everybody knows the constitutional provision that counts slaves as three-fifths of a whole person for purposes of apportioning House seats, but how many know that it was the slaveholders who wanted their slaves to be counted fully, so they could reap the benefits of additional Congressmen who would vote with pro-slavery interests, like the preservation of slavery, fugitive slave laws, and support for slavery in the territories? By counting them as three-fifths, the framers of the Constitution gave slave states lessinfluence over Congress than counting slaves fully would have, without completely alienating their willingness to ratify the Constitution. In fact, the compromise actually gave states an incentive to free their slaves: if their slaves became free men, they’d get more representatives.
Public schools may teach kids the whos, whats, wheres, and whens of American history and politics, but not the whys—an inexcusable inadequacy that denies them what they need most to become civic-minded adults, and demands much greater attention in America’s education debate.
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Would Mitt Romney Shrink Government?

When asked by Jay Leno which federal agencies he’d cut, Mitt Romney said:
I’m going to go through it piece by piece, combine — when I was secretary, excuse me, when I was governor of Massachusetts, and we looked at the Secretary of Health and Human Services, we had 15 different agencies.  We said, let’s combine those into three.  We’re not going to get rid of the work that each do, but we’re going to combine the overheads, we’re not going to have as many lawyers and press secretaries and administrators, and that saves money and makes it more efficient.  And I hope to be able to do the same thing in Washington […] We’ll look agency-by-agency and look where the opportunities are best, but I’ll take a lot of what Washington does and send it back to the states.
Byron York characterizes Romney’s answer as “not less gov’t, more efficient gov’t,” and Mark America takes it as an illustration of “why conservatives do not trust Romney”:
Mitt Romney isn’t interested in reducing the reach of government into Americans’ lives, but instead making it more efficient.  That’s part of the message Romney delivered to Jay Leno’s audience on Tuesday evening, and what you need to realize about all of this is that Romney is not a conservative.  He’s a technocrat, and he’s a businessman, but his interest in making various programs and agencies of government more efficient does not make him conservative.  Conservatives realize that to save this nation, we must re-make the government in a smaller, less intrusive, and less-encompassing form.  We need to eliminate programs, bureaus and agencies, and discard their functions.  Romney won’t do any of that, and in fact, he will likely extend their reach.
Of course, nowhere above did Romney actually say he wouldn’t make government smaller, that he “isn’t interested in reducing the reach of government,” or that he’d extend its reach. At most, he gave one example of how he cut government at the state level which offers a general idea of his approach – and while that could be interpreted by those unfavorably predisposed to Romney as meaning he wouldn’t shrink government, you can’t simultaneously read so much into that statement while completely ignoring the part in the very same interview where Romney says he’d also “take a lot of what Washington does and send it back to the states.”
While the blemishes in Romney’s limited-government record are undeniable, let’s not sell him short on that front – Romney’s been against a federal takeover of healthcare since not just 2007, but 1994(!), he’s spoken about getting education back to the states, and as Ann Coulter explained last week, his governorship of Massachusetts was much more conservative than you may have heard from some bloggers:
He cut state spending by $600 million, including reducing his own staff budget by $1.2 million, and hacked the largest government agency, Health and Human Services, down from 13 divisions to four. He did this largely by persuading the Legislature to give him emergency powers his first year in office to cut government programs without their consent.

Although Romney was not able to get any income tax cuts past the Democratic Legislature, he won other tax cuts totaling nearly $400 million, including a one-time capital gains tax rebate and a two-day sales tax holiday for all purchases under $2,500.

He also vetoed more bills than any other governor in Massachusetts history, before or since. He vetoed bills concerning access to birth control, more spending on state zoos, and the creation of an Asian-American commission — all of which were reversed by the Legislature.

As Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said, “What else could he do?” 

Maybe a President Romney would capitulate to big government. But what he told Jay Leno isn’t evidence of that.

Romney Hits a Home Run on Marriage

Here’s one of the highlights of the most recent GOP debate, where Mitt Romney made a surprisingly strong case for the Federal Marriage Amendment. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it explained so clearly in so few words:  
I believe that the issue of marriage should be decided at the federal level. You might wonder, why is that? Why wouldn’t you just let each state make their own decision? And the reason is because people move from state to state, of course, in a society like ours, they have children, as they go to different states, if one state recognizes a marriage and another does not, what’s the right of that child? What kind of divorce proceeding potential would there be in a state that didn’t recognize the marriage in the first place? There are – marriage is a status, it’s not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state, and as a result, marriage status relationships should be constant across the country.

A Less Perfect Union: How Will Conservatives Restore States’ Rights?

Note: the following article was originally written in early June for another venue, but I’ve reprinted it here because I think its point is still relevant. It is also cross-posted at RedState.

Thanks largely to the Tea Party movement, the United States is thinking harder about individual liberty and states’ rights than she has in years. But despite identifying the problem, conservatives aren’t any closer to enacting a viable long-term solution for taming our federal leviathan.

Several efforts show promise. Many states have challenged the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance, guaranteeing an eventual ruling from the Supreme Court. Though worth doing, that’s far too risky a basket to put all our eggs in, since it relies on a majority of the justices to rule based on the text of the Constitution rather than their personal ideologies.

In his popular book Men in Black, constitutional scholar and talk radio host Dr. Mark Levin suggests that Congress should restrain such activist judges via its constitutional authority to place limits on the courts’ jurisdiction and to impeach especially odious judges, and advocates constitutional amendments to give judges term limits and give Congress a supermajority veto over Supreme Court decisions. All these proposals are worth exploring in further detail, but even if enacted, there would still be legislative statism to deal with.

In Minnesota’s 2010 gubernatorial race, unsuccessful Republican nominee Tom Emmer backed a state constitutional amendment forbidding federal laws from taking effect without approval by a two-thirds vote in the state legislature. This proposal’s practical failings are obvious—preemptively nullifying all federal laws until the high bar of supermajority support is met would drastically complicate the law’s execution, and there’s no reason to expect state lawmakers’ decisions will be significantly more pro-Constitution that Congress, instead of simply turning on whether a particular majority happens to agree with whoever controls Capitol Hill at any given time.

In his recent book Power Divided is Power Checked, talk radio host Jason Lewis floats a more radical solution—a 28th Amendment, which would expressly affirm each state’s right to secession: “any state whose inhabitants desire through legal means and in accordance with state law to leave this union of the several states shall not be forcibly refrained from doing so.”

Secession is one of the Right’s more heated inter-movement debates, often distinguishing Libertarian from Republican, Northerner from Southerner. This conservative believes secession-at-will is a dangerous doctrine which undermines the rule of law and forgets the nation’s founding principles. Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Jay all considered the national Union an indispensible safeguard of liberty, and “Father of the Constitution” James Madison explicitly denied secession’s legitimacy, explaining that, as a mutually-binding legal compact, the Constitution cannot be broken by any single party.

Moreover, conservatives need to be honest about secession’s full implications—by breaking away from the country, a state wouldn’t merely be rejecting an unjust administration, but also rejecting our very Constitution as no longer worth defending within the system of government it establishes.

So what is the answer? Taking unconstitutional laws to court would certainly be worthwhile. So would Levin’s proposed remedies. But these aren’t magic bullets, and conservatives need to recognize that the problem is more complex than “good states versus evil feds.” Indeed, bad national politicians don’t just fall from the sky; they start out as bad state and local politicians.

Why do so many Americans accept statism? Because the rest of us have failed to be vigilant in our own backyards. For decades, we’ve let progressive presuppositions about government and society gradually infect our politics, education, and culture. To really change course, we must retake our institutions at the local level, particularly with renewed scrutiny of what our schools are—and aren’t—teaching. We can’t expect future generations to recognize betrayals of our founding principles if they don’t even recognize names like Locke or Publius.

We didn’t get here overnight, and we shouldn’t expect a constitutional rebirth overnight either. Every level of American government and society needs to be scrubbed clean. Meaningful, lasting reform is the work of generations, which will demand from each of us more patience, tenacity, and fortitude than ever before.

Allahpundit Doesn’t Get It

And by “it,” I’m referring to Rick Perry’s answer on why he (now) backs a Federal Marriage Amendment.
Perry:
It’s part of the fabric of America to support traditional marriage and that being between one man and one woman. I led the charge back in the mid 2000′s in Texas when we passed a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, passed by 75%, that’s rather overwhelming. But I do respect a state’s right to have a different opinion and take a different tact if you will, California did that. I respect that right, but our founding fathers also said, ‘listen, if you all in the future think things are so important that you need to change the constitution here’s the way you do it’. It takes three quarters of the states deciding that this is important, it goes forward and it becomes an amendment to the United States Constitution. I support that for issues that are so important, I think, to the soul of this country and to the traditional values which our founding fathers, on the issue of traditional marriage I support the federal marriage amendment.
Allah:
Why would you want an amendment in a case where you respect a state’s right to have a different opinion? The touchstone for an amendment, I would think, is when you don’t respect that right because a particular state’s legislative preference would lead to grievous harm. Slavery is the paradigm example; abortion, arguably, is another. If you can look at your opponent’s position and say, “I see your point but I think you’re wrong,” that should take the amendment option off the table and put you back in Tenth Amendment territory. Federalism is “part of the fabric of America” too, after all; as a wise man once said, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Perry’s arguing, I guess, that this experiment is simply too dangerous to conduct — except, actually, he never does say that it’s dangerous. He just says it’s contrary to “traditional values,” a standard that would prohibit “novel social experiments” altogether. And the kicker is that he’s couching his argument in terms of Article V, which is the most “non-traditional” part of the Constitution insofar as it lets future generations change the law as opinions change. Well, opinions are changing. Why use Article V to stop it if you can’t articulate some sort of overweening harm?
That’s fair enough as a critique of Perry’s case for the FMA, but Allah talks as if that’s the only pro-FMA argument he’s familiar with. He’s been manning one of the blogosphere’s top center-right blogs for years, and yet he’s this ignorant about the pro-side?
To summarize, the case for a Federal Marriage Amendment is simple: first, it’s the only thing that will truly insulate marriage from judicial activism, and second, marriage is so vital to the continuance of a free society that the United States must insist on a uniform definition. For further edification, I prescribe the following articles:

Some Inconvenient Truths About GOProud

With some high profile center-right bloggers outraged by the American Conservative Union’s decision not to continue gay Republican group GOProud’s sponsorship of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, it’s worth listing a few points about GOProud and CPAC the finger wavers should think about:
  1. GOProud’s position on marriage: “Opposing any anti-gay federal marriage amendment.  Marriage should be a question for the states.  A federal constitutional amendment on marriage would be an unprecedented federal power grab from the states.” Deferring marriage policy to the states is a respectable (albeit mistaken, in my view) conservative position; referring to the marriage amendment as “anti-gay” is not.
  2. GOProud’s stated support for marriage federalism is highly misleading. The organization wants to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, falsely suggesting the law interferes with the right of the states to set marriage policy. DOMA is not a federal same-sex marriage ban, but merely a federal guarantee that individual states won’t be forced to recognize or adopt the marriage definitions of other states. What good is it for GOProud to say they support states’ rights on the issue if they want to leave the states defenseless against activist judges?
  3. GOProud doesn’t merely ignore social issues; they also actively demand that the rest of the conservative coalition abandons social issues too. In doing so they misrepresent how many Tea Partiers they speak for and denigrate the movement’s most conservative, loyal and long-standing members as “Washington insiders and special interest groups.”
  4. GOProud supported the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But as those following the issue know, policymakers ignored the concerns of many servicemen and military officers in deciding what to do about DADT. Can any organization that doesn’t take seriously the military’s judgment in such matters truly call itself conservative?
  5. GOProud supports ending taxpayer funding for abortion, but punts on the main issue. It turns out GOProud president Chris Barron worked for Planned Parenthood as director of pro-choice outreach to Republicans. Barron says his time with PP was the “worst 2 months of my life,” yet it apparently wasn’t significant enough to change his position all that much: “he stopped supporting the Roe v Wade decision in early 2006, after this experience, ‘but beyond that don’t have strong feelings on abortion – not really involved in the process.’”
  6. Barron has also smeared longtime conservative activists Tony Perkins (Family Research Council president) and Cleta Mitchell (ACU board member) as “bigots,” and ridiculed those boycotting CPAC over GOProud’s involvement, including Sen. Jim DeMint and Concerned Women for America, as living on “the Island of Political Misfit Toys.” Barron did apologize to Mitchell, but not to the others. Not only has Barron shown his capacity for demonization, but he lacks the common sense and the humility to recognize that a newcomer to the Right, especially one with all the baggage listed above, doesn’t quite have the standing to pass judgment on the political relevance of the movement’s veterans.
  7. Barron isn’t the only GOProud bigwig with behavioral problems. In response to the National Organization for Marriage’s perfectly reasonable press release stating, “We welcome everyone’s right to participate in the democratic process, but we have a message for GOProud on marriage: If you try to elect pro-gay-marriage Republicans, we will Dede Scozzafava them,” LaSalvia threw a temper tantrum: “I just have a question for them: Who’s the pansy at CPAC? What wusses. Just come over. Don’t play nice if you’re not going to be nice.”
  8. Some critics have asked why the ACU is throwing out GOProud, but not Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan, both of whom are disturbingly cozy with radical Islamists. That’s an excellent question, and the ACU should be confronted on it. Y’know what else is an excellent question? Why the people raising the question don’t notice that Norquist is also on GOProud’s advisory board. Are we to believe Norquist impairs the ACU’s reliability on national security and foreign policy, but not GOProud’s?
Everyone makes mistakes now and then, and prudent allies should be able to forgive one or two transgressions for the sake of their shared priorities. But with no less than eight serious marks against GOProud, it’s entirely reasonable to doubt the organization’s intentions and conservative credibility. CPAC made the right decision.

This article is cross-posted at RedState.com.

Another Flip-Flop? Not So Fast

Barack Obama’s getting flack for announcing his opposition to a proposed ban on same-sex marriage in California. It’s being called yet another Obama flip-flop since he previously said the decision to recognize same-sex marriage should be left to each state. However, I don’t think conservatives should add this one to the list. Stating an opinion on which government level should have the authority to make this decision doesn’t presuppose an indifference to what decision they ultimately make. Unless Obama advocates overturning state decisions on the matter via federal power, which he hasn’t, it’s not a flip-flop.