Senator Rick Scott proposes a right-wing wish list
When I wrote my book, Surrender, back in 1998, I was focused on what I called “right wing economics.” As early as 1978, when Representative Jack Kemp introduced what came to be known as a “supply side” tax cut, I had been fascinated by the resurgence of what I had learned in college was a backward and wrong-headed approach to economics. Beginning with Keynes in the 1930s and developing within the economics profession over the next 35 years or so, a consensus had emerged that there were very important roles for government in “fixing” the failures of a capitalist market economy. None was more important than intervening in the economy to combat recessions and depressions.
The lessons learned from the 1930s and the successes of the post war economy in the 1950s and 1960s were codified in the economic analyses taught to generations of students in textbooks written by giants of the profession like Professor Paul Samuelson.
[My text was an equally popular one written by Campbell McConnell which went through over 20 editions – the later ones co-authored by Stanley Brue and Sean Flynn.]
In those texts, at least through the 1970s, there was a consensus that the Keynesian prescriptions of government manipulation of spending and taxing to change total demand in the economy was the way to fight recession (raise spending, cut taxes) or inflation (cut spending, raise taxes). Discretionary monetary policy also played a role: cut interest rates to fight recession, raise interest rates to fight inflation. There were other important roles for government in regulating businesses (to cut down on pollution) and redistributing income (the social safety net – social security, unemployment compensation, welfare payments).
In the 1970s, the simultaneous existence of rising inflation and persistent unemployment created an opening for the opposition. This is where monetarism and supply side economics came to the fore.
[For a brief analysis of the basics of right-wing economics, see my book Surrender, How the Clinton Administration Completed the Reagan Revolution, (Ann Arbor, Mi: U. Mich Press, 2000 pbk): ch 3, especially pp. 35-50 or Meeropol, Sherman and Sherman, Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies (2nd ed.) (NY: Routledge, 2019): chs. 23-25.]
The short version of this resurgent right-wing approach is that government intervenes in the economy too much – that almost all those interventions, especially those that redistribute income from higher to lower income people, do more harm than good. Government regulations of private business also do more harm than good. Finally, when government provides services directly to people such as education they often interfere with individual rights of parents.
My book, Surrender, investigated the economic policies of the Reagan Administration in the 1980s and showed how the tentative efforts by the Clinton Administration to reverse some of Reagan’s policies were abandoned very quickly. I hope my book developed an understanding of both the economic rationale for right wing economic policies and their utter failure to deliver when they had the chance during the 1980s. (There was an even more dramatic failure in the years leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008.)
But despite these abject failures, which I documented in my book and in many of my commentaries over the last 16 years, these ideas keep coming back. (Economist Paul Krugman calls this zombie economics!)
The latest example of right-wing policy proposals (admittedly with some interesting rhetorical twists) has come from the office of Senator Rick Scott of Florida. He just produced what he calls an “eleven-point plan to rescue America.”
[Available in full on a website he created at https://rescueamerica.com/11-point-plan/]
Over the next few months, I hope to discuss his individual points and take them seriously. This will be difficult because most of the points are either warmed over proposals from previous Republican campaigns or rhetoric with no substantive meaning. Nevertheless, I plan to push ahead.
Let’s start with education. Here is a summary statement from Scott’s web page:
“We will inspire patriotism and stop teaching the revisionist history of the radical left; our kids will learn about the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the founding fathers.” Below this large print introduction are the words, “Public schools will focus on the 3 R’s, not indoctrinate children with critical race theory or any other political ideology.” Below that are the following 12 bullet points. (In the oral version of this commentary, I did not quote any of the bullet points but am putting them here for completeness)
- Parents, not government, will choose the best schools for their kids.
- We will enact equal opportunity in education (school choice) so no child will be sent to a failing school simply because of their zip code.
- Kids in public schools will say the Pledge of Allegiance, stand for the National Anthem, and honor the American Flag. We must foster national unity.
- We will open our schools to parents. Parents must have the right to know what their children are being taught, who is teaching them, and which organizations are receiving school contracts.
- The FBI, DOJ, and all government entities will be expressly forbidden from intimidating parents who dare speak their minds at school board meetings.
- Public schools will teach our children to love America because, while not perfect, it is exceptional, it is good, and it is a beacon of freedom in an often-dark world.
- No child will be taught they are inherently racist because of the color of their skin, or that some Americans are oppressors and others are oppressed.
- Teacher tenure at public schools must be eliminated because it protects inadequate teachers, not good teachers.
- We will not allow political or social indoctrination in our schools. Teachers who refuse to comply will need to find new jobs.
- No public school will be allowed to discriminate against voluntary prayer or force children to check their faith at the door.
- We will close the federal Department of Education. Education is a state function. If Congress wants to spend money on education, they can cut out the middleman and send it directly to schools and parents.
- It will be America’s goal to be number one in the world in math and science by 2030.
One of these goals (12) is an innocuous wish. It would be nice. Where is the money to make this happen? One of these goals (3) sounds good but it is unconstitutional: Jehovah’s witnesses (and others) have been protected against being forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance for generations.
A number of other goals are long-standing right-wing Republican desires for the education system. These include 1,2,8, 10 and 11. Voluntary silent prayer has never been forbidden, it’s the official designation of time for prayer that is unconstitutional. School choice is a euphemism for privatizing public education on the taxpayers’ dollars.
I could go on but I won’t. Instead, I want to focus on the statement that public schools will not indoctrinate children with critical race theory or any other political ideology (which has echoes in points 6, 7 and 9)
[As I wrote in a previous commentary, none of the people (certainly not Senator Scott) criticizing “critical race theory” have a clue as to what it is. If they did, they would know that it’s a legal theory taught mostly in Law Schools ---or perhaps in graduate programs in political science. The term is now used as a code for “teaching about racism in the US, past and present…” – something the opponents of such teaching believe will make white students “uncomfortable.”]
So let’s focus instead on the words, “or any other political ideology.” This assertion is placed right after Scott states that schools will inspire patriotism. Is patriotism not a political ideology? Especially the way Scott uses it – note bullet points 6 and 7 --- it is pushing a doctrine: America may not be perfect but (reading between the lines) it’s the “best” nation on earth – oh, and no Americans are oppressors! (Reread bullet 7 to see that the absence of oppressed and oppressors in America is what Scott wants to see taught.)
Aren’t all of these requirements in service of a particular ideology? Is asserting that kids must learn the “wisdom” of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and the founding fathers not an indoctrination into a particular ideological view of the U. S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and the founding fathers? IN other words, the students cannot learn the “faults” of the founding fathers or the criticisms of the original U.S. Constitution – nor about criticisms of the Constitution that are discussed today. Aren’t these omissions political indoctrination, something Senator Scott promises to ban in bullet point 9? Are kids not to be taught that the Bill of Rights only restricted Congress’s ability to interfere with these rights? The restrictions did not apply to State governments until the 14th Amendment extended all the prohibitions against Congress to States as well. (A Supreme Court ruling in 1833 – BARRON – held that the Bill of Rights only restricted the Federal Government’s powers.)
And if the U.S. Constitution and founding fathers contained so much wisdom, how come the country had to fight a bloody Civil War to change the Constitution to abolish slavery and give ex-slaves the right to vote? How come it took more than 60 years after the Civil War before the U.S. Constitution was changed again to permit women to vote?
The U.S. Constitution required that all runaway slaves be returned to their masters, even if they were in a state where slavery had been abolished. The U.S. Constitution forbade Congress from ending the slave trade for 20 years (which meant it protected the existence of the slave trade for 20 years.). The U.S. Constitution did not permit citizens to directly elect members of the United States Senate. It took another amendment to that Constitution to make that the law of the land.
Think about this. To achieve the ideological result that Scott demands of our educational systems, teachers would not be permitted to actually have students read the words of the Constitution. The words supporting the return of fugitive slaves to their masters, keeping the slave trade for at least twenty years, denying citizens the right to directly elect Senators and implicitly denying the vote to women would certainly interfere with students’ learning the “wisdom” of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers.
It is clear that Scott’s entire project is political indoctrination. Scott isn’t opposed to indoctrination at all. He’s just opposed to any teacher bringing up inconvenient facts that would punch holes in the specific indoctrination he desires. He wants to help extreme right wingers control what is taught in public schools and give them the ability to punish anyone raising a dissenting point of view. This is where that seemingly innocuous bullet point 5 comes in. No federal (or state) law enforcement agency is interested in thwarting the rights of parents to come to school board meetings and argue for particular educational policies. What the DOJ and FBI have been investigating is DEATH THREATS against school board members for “daring” to resist the calls to censor teachers and ban certain books.
If Senator Scott’s ideological indoctrination becomes the rule in America’s public schools, the result will be the dumbing down of school children and the evisceration of the ability of American adults to function as informed citizens of a democracy.
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies
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