Monday, November 25, 2013

Obama: the non-ideological ideologue

In the a fund-raising trip to the West Coat--mostly in order to benefit Nancy Pelosi--the President told people in attendance that he's "not a particularly ideological person." According to The Hill, Obama doesn't even consider himself much of a partisan and is only concerned with improving things. And in that regard, he believes there's general agreement with regard to "solutions" that is stymied by the politics of it all:
"I’m not a particularly ideological person," Obama said, according to the White House pool report. "There’s things, some values I feel passionately about." Those include, he said, making sure "everybody gets a fair shake" and "everybody being treated with dignity or respect, regardless of what they look like or who they are." 
Congress, Obama said, is the "biggest barrier and impediment" to achieving progress. He added that, without politics, there’s strong agreement on how to tackle infrastructure, immigration reform, early childhood education and investing in science and research.

"More than anything, what we’re looking for is not the defeat of another party, what we’re looking for is the advancement of ideas," he said.
Apart from the silliness of a hardcore ideologue pretending to be non-ideological, what really gets me about Obama's remarks is the arrogance--and ignorance--with regard to what people expect and want from the government. In the fantasy bubble world of Obama and his sycophants, everyone--at least everyone allowed an opinion--is in complete agreement on the nature of government, what it should do, and how far it's reach should be.

Consider the second to last topic mentioned by Obama: early childhood education. In his mind, there's really no disagreement on what to do here, what is needed to "fix" things. Much of the President's agenda in this regard--the one he assumes everyone shares--involves universal preschool. His vision in this regard is laid out on the White House website:
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to expand access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. As part of that effort, the President will propose a series of new investments that will establish a continuum of high-quality early learning for a child – beginning at birth and continuing to age 5. By doing so, the President would invest critical resources where we know the return on our dollar is the highest: in our youngest children.
There is no doubt that educating children--young children--is a good thing, but what doesn't follow from this simple standard is the need for the Federal Government to oversee, much less mandate, such education. What also doesn't follow is the need for such education to be under the auspices of the state in general, at all. This blog entry from the White House explains the underlying assumptions of the President's views in further detail. Consider this portion:

The beginning years of a child’s life are critical for building the early foundation needed for success later in school and in life. Leading economists agree that high-quality early learning programs can help level the playing field for children from lower-income families on vocabulary, social and emotional development, while helping students to stay on track and stay engaged in the early elementary grades. Children who attend these programs are more likely to do well in school, find good jobs, and succeed in their careers than those who don’t. 
Despite the benefits of early education, our nation has lagged in making sure high-quality programs are available for our youngest kids. While 39 states and the District of Columbia offer state funded pre-school, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the United States ranks 28th out of 38 countries for the share of four-year olds enrolled in early childhood education. And just 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality programs that prepare kids with the skills they need for kindergarten.
Note the non-specific reference to "leading economists," one of the typical logical fallacies of argument engaged in by the current Administration. And note, too, the obvious slippery slope being created by this view: if the beginnings of a child's life are so critical, why stop at preschool? Shouldn't the state--or more specifically the Federal Government--be in control of a child's development even earlier? Why wait until the age of four? This vision presupposes a relative lack of importance on the part of parents when it comes to education. Indeed, this is almost spelled out in the next paragraph of the piece:
In particular, studies show that children from low-income families are less likely to have access to high-quality early education, and less likely to enter school prepared for success. By third grade, children from low-income families who are not reading at grade level are six times less likely to graduate from high school than students who are proficient.
The logical failure here is the assumption that "high-quality" preschool is both a necessary and sufficient condition for success in school. The role of the parent in this regard is completely ignored. Yet professional educators will say--to a person--that parental involvement is critical for children, that having parents who care about education and make it a point to teach their children is the real critical issue. In this respect, the above piece also notes the common canard of the importance of day care and preschool when it comes to "social development." Obama hits the same note in a speech he gave on this topic earlier in the year (my boldface):
So at the age that our children are just sponges soaking stuff in, their minds are growing fastest, what we saw in the classroom here today was kids are taught numbers, they’re taught shapes, but also how to answer questions, discover patterns, play well with others. And the teachers who were in the classroom, they’ve got a coach who’s coming in and working with them on best practices and paying attention to how they can constantly improve what they’re doing.
This is an ideology-based perspective on the part of the President, wholly and completely, the idea that the state is more responsible than the parent when it comes to raising and educating children. We need not go into whether or not it's socialism/communism; such a discussion is pointless. It's enough to note the point of divergence here: the split between classical liberalism (which subsumes libertarianism and conservatism in the U.S.) and modern liberalism (which subsumes liberalism and progressivism in the U.S., along with socialism and communism). I've noted this divergence previously, in explaining why Obama's views are nothing like those of Thomas Hobbes (contrary to the imaginations of some scholars):
If I were to frame the current race as a contest between two philosophical sources, I would have chosen a very different pair (one that works nine times out of ten, when it comes to contests between conservatives/libertarians and progressives/liberals): John Locke and G.W.F. Hegel. For it is here that modern political thought diverges along two paths, that of modern liberalism with an all powerful state in service to the common good and the needs thereof (Hegel), and that of classical liberalism with a strictly limited state tasked with ensuring peace and upholding a justly made set of laws so the individual is free to rise or fall on his own (Locke). Hobbes is not fully on either side, but in context he is most assuredly much closer to Locke than to Hegel.
The President, in stating that there is agreement on this issue and the others he notes as well, betrays both his arrogance and his ignorance, as I noted above. He is arrogant enough to assume he cannot be intellectually challenged on his proposals (because of the assumption that the "experts" will come to his aid) and he is ignorant enough to not understand the real basis of the competing views, the idea of limited government as a means of protecting liberty and individualism, as opposed to his own utopian vision of an extensive, exceedingly powerful state as means of solving every problem that can be perceived, as a means of achieving a uniform society imbibed with the fantasy of "social justice."

Cheers, all.

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