Charles Barkley’s call for action at the Doug Jones’ victory celebration—“a wake-up call for Democrats”—addresses THE ISSUE facing Progressives: What in the hell are we fighting for? The Resistance is all well and good, but underlying that resistance must be a rock solid foundation upon which resistance is built, and right now, that foundation is not being communicated as one voice by the self-anointed leaders of the Resistance Movement or by the Democratic Party. Without a unified message, the Progressive Movement rests upon a foundation of sand.
Barkley approached the essence of the challenge when he asserted that Democrats have taken “the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time…It’s time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black folks and people who are poor…They’ve always had our votes, and they have abused our votes, and this is a wake-up call. We’ve got them in a great position now, but this is a wake-up call for Democrats to do better for black people and poor white people.”
At the root of the call “to do better” should be a clarion call to improve education for all Americans; unfortunately, “improving education” is a concept that has been hijacked and bastardized by radical American conservative ideology during the past three decades. Advantaged Radical Conservatives, as represented by the DeVos family and the Koch brothers et al, have sought inroads into the national discourse on education by demonizing the Welfare State in order to eliminate universal public education.
While they seldom pronounce it publicly, at their core, advantaged Radical Conservatives believe that education is a privilege and not a right, and they believe it is wrong to continue to spend their taxpayer dollars on schools determined to have failed, despite the millions of poor American children who would not have access to education as a result. My non-scientific sample of one tells me that advantaged, Radical Conservatives have no antipathy to this result because, quite frankly, the students in those schools do not look like their children.
What these Radical Conservatives fail to recognize is the consequence identified by a very wealthy American during his Inaugural Speech in 1960: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Radical Conservatives rely upon unified messages in predictable venues to prop up their righteous claims, but Progressives do not. For example, how often do you hear Kennedy’s iconic warning quoted in contemporary treatises about the importance of preserving and improving Public Education?
It is time for Progressives to “get off their ass” and identify such unified goals and messages. A place to begin might be the Declaration of Independence upon which Progressive Ideals are based: We hold these truths to be self-evident: 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.
The absence of a rallying call aligned with the essential moral foundation of the Declaration is a great void in the Progressive movement for two reasons: one, such a call would serve as the foundation to which all Progressive policies would be referenced, and two, such a call would contrast the actions of advantaged Radical Conservatives, which are contrary to the Declaration’s insistance on equality. A good friend has offered the following as a possible clarification of Progressive foundational philosophy:
The government should play a key role in ensuring the equality and equal treatment of all people: equality in life and health, equality in liberty and freedoms, and equal opportunity to pursue happiness and economic opportunity.
Advantaged Radical Conservatives understand the pivotal role education plays in individuals’ economic and social well-being—it is why they want their tax dollars to go primarily to their own children—but said Conservatives either do not understand or simply do not care about the pivotal role universal education plays in the survival of our nation as described by Thomas Jefferson:
A government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it…Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a republic; and to inspire it ought to be the principal business of education…”
Progressives understand that universal education is a moral right and not a privilege, and as Jefferson implies, the survival of our democratic way of life is education’s “principal business.” Progressives must demand that the Democratic Party heed the wake-up call as described by Charles Barkley, and in its words and deeds, the Party must demonstrate that universal quality education is an essential mission.
For an additional perspective on the welfare state, please read Education and the Welfare State.