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It's the culture, stupid!
Posted By Samuel Blumenfeld On 03/11/1999 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled
The recent column by Paul Weyrich, arguing that conservatives could
not win the culture war through the political process alone, struck a
familiar note to this writer. Those of us who have been struggling for
years on the cultural and educational battlefield are not unfamiliar
with that idea. For example, it was clear to us in the early days of the
Reagan administration, when Terrel Bell was appointed to run the
Department of Education, that the Republicans hadn’t a clue about how to
win the culture war. Nor did they seem to have a very good sense of what
the culture war was all about.
Bell, well known as an establishment educationist, opposed the
conservative agenda from the start, which called for the abolition of
the Department. His memoirs, The Thirteenth Man, recounts the
story of his battle against the conservatives and how he found important
allies among some top Republican officials in the White House. To Bell,
the influence of the conservatives in the department was comparable to a
Bell’s book should be read if conservative Republicans wish to avoid
some costly mistakes in the next Republican White House. One of the
first things Bell did was get rid of Edward Curran whom had been
appointed as director of the National Institute of Education. Curran, a
movement conservative, found the Institute to be wasteful and useless
and thought it should be abolished. But the last thing Bell wanted was
to shut down a river of federal cash flow to the education research
community which relies heavily on federal funding to maintain its
comfortable ivory-tower lifestyle. And so, Curran was fired.
The last thing conservatives should do is appoint liberals to
implement a conservative agenda. So why do Republican politicians do
that? The answer is that too many of them have come to accept an
expanded federal role into everything. Once liberals manage to establish
a new federal program, Republicans can’t seem to get rid of it. So they
make it more efficient. That’s why Republicans in Congress, who profess
to want less government, keep voting to spend more and more money on
education. They want government vouchers which will, in time, bring
government regulations into the private schools. What a way to reduce
government size or spending! Only a few conservatives will argue openly
that the federal government ought to get out of the education business.
What happened in the Department of Ed no doubt also happened in many
other departments. And the reason why it happens so predictably is
because country club Republicans have a very vague political philosophy,
and ideological conservatives frighten the heck out of them. Besides,
the name of the game in politics is money, short and simple. (Clinton
learned that fact early on.) Movement conservatives may have great ideas
but they don’t have much money. Conservative foundations can’t come near
the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie foundations with their billions. And
so, conservatives have had to make do with very little.
That is why many conservative families have ceased to hope for
miracles in Washington. So they go about their business quietly and
purposefully. They homeschool their kids or build private schools, they
build new churches, they create newsletters and magazines. They fight in
court to protect their rights and freedoms. That’s where the culture war
is being fought and won in America: in the family. And that’s why what
goes on in Washington is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Obviously, the homeschool movement is the grass-roots answer to the
conservatives’ failure in Washington. As long as individual Americans
and their families have the freedom to detach themselves from the
statist institution of public education and its brainwashing influences,
there is still hope that the nation can be restored to its basic values
of morality and constitutional freedom. There is every indication that
the homeschool movement is producing a new generation of Americans who
will be entering the political arena one day. Already, the Home School
Legal Defense Association is making itself heard in Congress. That’s the
long range hope. There is much more to the culture war than meets the
eye. We now know that change will come slowly, but change will come.
Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of “NEA: Trojan Horse in
American Education” and other books on educational issues.
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