The Economist’s Democracy in America blog may seem to be making an anti-Republican point:
Wealth is just distilled opportunity. Our opportunities are in no small part a function of our parents’ level of economic achievement—of their economic “outcome”. If opportunity is in fact so closely tied to outcome, then equalising opportunity would require constant coercive “correction” of the patterns of income and wealth that bubble up from economic activity.
Read on, though:
But that’s the principal objection to the government attempting to maintain equality of outcome, or any particular pattern of goods, for that matter. So when Americans endorse “equality of opportunity”, they probably aren’t begging for the titanic interventions that would be required to literally equalise opportunity. I think what conservatives are groping for in their confused rhetoric about “equality of opportunity” is the idea that everyone should have access to a baseline level of opportunity. Everyone ought to have enough opportunity to participate in our society’s institutions fully and well, enough to make a decent life.
Conservatives need to get this straight, because opportunity is a question on which they could conceivably have the advantage. Ensuring that everyone has a good enough start in life is largely a matter of upbringing and education. Kids who grow up poor in single-parent homes don’t do well. But Democrats are allergic to discussion of the extent to which the reproduction of class is a matter of family structure, for victim-blaming this way lies.
The blog quotes Heather MacDonald of City Journal …
Conservatives should respond to the Left’s present-oriented framework for analyzing welfare and poverty by reintroducing the connection between past behavior and present need. Underclass poverty doesn’t just happen to people, as the Left implies. It is almost always the consequence of poor decision-making—above all, having children out of wedlock. A single mother almost inevitably faces a life of stress and instability, even if she gets a job per TANF rules. More importantly, out-of-wedlock child-rearing is profoundly irresponsible. The evidence is incontrovertible: children raised in single-parent homes do worse on all measures of socialization than those raised by married parents.
… but then adds …
… “a full-throated campaign in every government office, bully pulpit, and private agency to reassert the value of fatherhood and marriage” strikes me as almost entirely devoid of substance or promise, and quite likely to take on toxic racial overtones. Still, it might be effective politics. And then there’s education reform. Insofar as the Democratic Party is perceived as a captive agent of teachers’ unions, Republicans can make a compelling case that as long as Democrats govern, there is little hope of the sort of reform absolutely essential to ensuring everyone a good enough opportunity in life. Moreover, the Democrats’ unrelenting focus on the unfair richness of the rich can be cast as an attempt to distract voters from the party’s inability to seriously address the real problems at the heart of America’s crisis of opportunity and upward mobility.
The “crisis of opportunity and upward mobility” in Wisconsin could be an argument about the state’s business climate, given the state’s decades-long lagging behind the rest of the country in personal income growth, but the Republican Party has failed to seize on that opportunity. On the other hand, Wisconsin Democrats are getting Fs in another “crisis of opportunity and upward mobility,” the kind of opportunity and mobility a quality education provides.
I’ve written before that Americans generally and Wisconsinites specifically need to be much more critical about the schools their tax dollars pay to operate. The education establishment/teacher union argument that you should give them all your money and then shut up about the schools is a non-starter with voters who believe they pay too much in taxes. It is, in fact, a non-starter with anyone who doesn’t get paychecks from government.
Schools are one reason why, barring something (more) strange happening between now and June 5, Gov. Scott Walker is not going to lose the (stupid) recall election. It’s obvious to all but the blind that school districts that used collective bargaining reforms are not worse off than they were one year ago. (Except perhaps in the attitudes of their teachers.) Those school districts that failed to take advantage of the collective bargaining reforms and are back to the old ways of laying off your youngest teachers because you can’t lay off your oldest teachers (among them Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville), that is their own fault, and the school board members who acquiesced to the bad old days should be punted from office at the next opportunity.
Schools are an excellent example of the political cowardice of nearly all of the Democratic Party. Gov. James Doyle gave schools whatever they wanted for four state budgets, demanding nothing in the way of school improvement in return. Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist was one of the few Democrats in Wisconsin (he was a state senator before he became mayor) who saw the heap of failure that was Milwaukee Public Schools; that’s why he pushed for education options, particularly private-school vouchers, as did Rep. Annette “Polly” Williams (D–Milwaukee).
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett could have picked up where Norquist left off. An early version of the 2009–11 state budget included a provision that is increasingly being used in big cities with failing school systems, but would have been unprecedented in this state — giving control (or at least more control) of a school system to the mayor. Barrett supported it, but in his milquetoast way failed to push hard for it, and the teacher unions ensured the 2009–10 Legislature killed it.
Elections are decided by what’s happening now, not on dire predictions of what’s going to happen if you don’t vote the correct way. The threat of widespread school failure having failed to materialize in the 2011–12 academic year, promises of future school ruin because of state aid cutbacks appear to not be persuasive, based on current polls. (The issue of bringing back the previous level of public employee collective bargaining “rights” isn’t persuading anyone beyond unions’ members and unions’ toadies.)
If I were a Republican running for office this fall against a Democrat, I would take every opportunity to blast the Democrats as the party of stupid ideas (Madison, symbolized by Kathleen Falk) and social pathologies (Milwaukee, symbolized by Barrett). And they have no answer for either.