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Given Douglas County’s move toward school vouchers (, now is a good time to cut through the rhetoric, the ideology, and the assumptions, and examine the idea thoroughly and fairly.

The logic behind school vouchers is that by providing parents with the ability to take the tax revenue allotted to their child(ren) to whatever public or private school they choose, competition for students will ensue, and the quality of education in all schools will improve (or some will simply “go out of business,” to be replaced by those that have a more successful business model, better competing for the revenue that follows students to the schools of their choice). The argument against school vouchers revolves around the notion that they undermine our commitment to public education.

On the plus side, school vouchers empower parents and students to make their own choices regarding what school they feel best serves their educational needs. They incorporate market forces and competitive pressures into our national struggle to improve our abysmally poorly performing public education system. They do not, inherently, reduce the public investment in education, but rather merely contract out for educational services to the private sector.

On the negative side, school voucher programs are likely to create a permanent underclass of the poorest performing students left isolated in the most underfunded schools. They undermine communities most in need of the benefits of strong community solidarity, by creating a vehicle for abandoning what is often the central cohesive force in our modern communities: The local school. They undermine our commitment to education as “the great equalizer” by, ironically, assigning to each student an equal share of the tax revenue dedicated to public education, thus disenabling increased spending on those with greater needs. And they do absolutely nothing to address the problems of education where they reside, in our homes and communities, in our norms and ideologies, in our cultural anti-intellectualism and preference for mindless distractions over disciplined engagement with the world.

Since private schools are able to accept or reject applicants at will, and acceptance of vouchers will be made on the basis of their school mission and their profit-motive, the students most in need of the most attention will tend to be declined, while the students who are easiest to teach and need the least investment of resources will be preferred. This means that those children most in need of improved educational services will be least able to get them, and, in fact, will see resources that have been dedicated to them siphoned off by the flight of the higher-performing students from their local schools. This is a recipe for abandoning and defunding those children most in need of our attention and resources. It is a retreat from a commitment to equality of opportunity, and toward the reincarnated “social Darwinist” tendencies of the modern far right in America.

Student success is predicated most on their family and community environments; those children who have parents or community members who frequently engage them in intellectually stimulating conversations and model for them the disciplines and attitudes most conducive to success of all kinds will almost inevitably achieve academic success. Our primary focus on educational reform should be on cultivating more of that social support infrastructure outside the schools and school hours, not on dismantling that social support infrastructure even more. Academic failure in America has more to do with the advance of extreme individualism, and the decline of communities, than it does with any defects in the schools themselves. Giving those students already rich in the ingredients for the success increased opportunities at the expense of those poorest in those ingredients will certainly benefit some people, but it will hurt those who are most vulnerable, and will hurt us collectively as a society (by breeding a more entrenched substratum of despair, and all of the social ills that ensue from it).

The projected market-disciplining benefits of vouchers are at best dubious. “Market success” does not, in fact, automatically mean “higher quality”. All it means is that people tended to choose that particular good or service over its competitors. The higher the information costs (i.e., difficulties and obstacles to consumer-assessment of quality), the lesser the degree to which competition improves quality. Parents and students can indeed look at how past graduates of a school have fared, and make assessments on that basis, but those outcomes are based as much or more on the quality of the students that were admitted to the school as on the quality of education they received at the school.

Higher quality students moving from poor performing schools to these more selective schools may indeed on average experience improved individual performance, but not because of any improvement in the quality of educational services delivered; rather, as a result of isolating and removing low performing students from the equation. We have to ask ourselves who and what we are as a people: Are we committed to the continuing march of extreme individualism, the resurrection of “social Darwinism,” or are we committed to being a people who works together to increase opportunities for all? If the former, vouchers are the way to go. If the latter, we need to go in the exact opposite direction: A greater commitment to improving the services offered to families to assist them in better supporting their children’s education, and to communities to help move them in the direction of better facilitators of better educational performance and better citizenship in general.

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While I haven’t yet seen “Waiting for Superman,” Dan Haley’s column in the Denver Post ( points to an error in the logic behind most current education reform movements. It is a logical error common in political advocacy of all kinds, from all points on the ideological spectrum: He assumes that an accurate description of the problem is an argument for one proposed solution. If that were the case, then correctly identifying the problem of, for instance, poverty, could be used as an argument for either welfare, welfare reform (such as occurred under Clinton), or the complete elimination of welfare.

Here’s a big problem with the “easier to fire bad teachers” model: There is a certain demand for teachers, and a set of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives to become a teacher. That set of incentives supplies us with the current in-flow of teachers, with the current distribution of quality. Making it easier to fire teachers adds only one new disincentive (because unusually high job security, along with lots of vacation time, have been two of the incentives counterbalancing a relatively low professional salary), without off-setting it with any new incentive. As a result, the average quality of in-coming teachers is likely to be decreased by some unknown degree (particularly since the most talented new teachers are also the ones with the most alternative options available).

Even if removing “bad” teachers worked as advertised, we would be skimming off the worst teachers while diminishing the overall quality of the teacher pool. Furthermore, the removed teachers have to be replaced, increasing demand for teachers, which, in the absence of creating an upward pressure on salaries (which, particularly in Colorado where tax revenues are low and increases require voter approval, are not determined by market forces), creates a downward pressure on quality (you have to fill vacancies with whoever you can get).

The lack of political will to raise revenues for education also debunks the counterargument that pay-for-performance or other increased incentives for quality teachers to enter the profession can or will off-set the increased disincentives, since the money doesn’t exist for any sustainable and substantial pay-for-performance program. Furthermore, few people contemplating entering the teaching profession are unaware of the difficulties in measuring “performance” in a way that would actually reward talent, or of the disincentives pay-for-performance provide to talented teachers contemplating teaching at-risk students.

Even beyond the above-mentioned concerns, I think that removing “bad” teachers is very unlikely to work as advertised. School districts are highly politicized environments, with risk-aversion and avoidance of boat-rocking forming imperatives far stronger than the commitment to provide children with the highest quality education possible. Therefore, teachers who rock the boat or somehow trigger administrators’ risk-aversion sensors (whether justly or unjustly) will be removed at least as frequently as teachers who are actually poor teachers. The evaluation systems for making determinations will become politicized in ways which will allow this to happen. It already does, to the extent possible.

So, the real systemic results of making it easier to remove “bad” teachers is that we remove some exceptionally good ones at a rate approaching if not exceeding the rate at which we remove exceptionally bad ones, and decrease the overall quality of the incoming teacher pool at the same time.

Sometimes, reality is counterintuitive. Simplistic arguments based on “Here’s the problem, and since it’s a problem, this proposed solution must be good,” may persuade those who are easily persuaded, but they don’t replace actually doing the analysis.

In countries where educational performance is superior to that of the United States, it is not due to weaker protections of teachers, but rather to stronger community involvement and cultural commitment to education as a value. The problems with American education are overwhelmingly located outside the schools, and outside the school hours. What we really need to solve our educational problems is a new commitment to expanding the mission of American public education to include more comprehensive guidance to parents and more effort to include the community in the educational mission.

The latter is so far from our current reality that when I strove, on my own time and my own dime, to create a more robust school-community partnership in Jeffco Schools, Superintendent Cindy Stevenson first stonewalled me, and then brusquely brushed me off when I persisted in my efforts. I believe that she doesn’t want a more robust school-community partnership because she doesn’t want the challenge to her autocratic authority that such community participation might imply. While realizing that an N of one is not evidence of any norm, I suspect that her attitude is not unusual, particularly in large urban and suburban school districts.

I am not suggesting that none of the ideas coming from our current education reformers and innovators are good ones. I strongly suspect that when I do watch “Waiting for Superman” I will be impressed by some of the ideas and experiments that have been tried, and frustrated by the politics which have obstructed their implementation and diffusion. Sometimes, as well, ideas that would not work if generally implemented work in specific instances because of the particularly endowed people implementing them. We need ideas that do not require “supermen,” but rather work with the material we currently have, everywhere. In the end, effective education reform is likely to involve a mixture of ideas and approaches, that recognize a variety of challenge and deficiencies.

But if we want to go down the path of real, effective educational reform, we need to stop kicking responsibility down the hierarchy to those who are already overburdened with responsibilities but under empowered to meet them. We need, instead, to place the responsibility where it really belongs: On all of us, on the anti-intellectual culture we have created, and on the ritualistic and ossified school district administrations we have essentially insisted upon by requiring them to compromise education to popular fanaticisms. Until we face these challenges at their roots, education in America will remain sub-par.

(For more general discussions of the need for less reliance on delegation of public responsibility, and more reliance on each person interested in meaningful improvement to start by taking personal responsibility for it, see, e.g., A Call To Minds & Hearts & Souls, A Proposal, The Ultimate Political Challenge, The Voice Beyond Extremes, The Foundational Progressive Agenda“A Theory of Justice”The Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & WithoutThe Battle of Good v. Evil, Part 2, and “Messaging” From The Heart of Many Rather Than The Mouth of Few).

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(This is the fourth in a series of four posts which discuss Tea Party “Political Fundamentalism”, comprised of the unholy trinity of “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry.)

To recap briefly, “Political Fundamentalism” is the mutation of christian fundamentalism that allows it to appeal more broadly to the highly secularized by equally dogma-reliant anti-intellectual populism that permeates our culture. Whereas there has long been cause for some concern about the fanaticism and cooptation by the Republican Party of right-wing evangelicals, I had always maintained that dogmatic ideology rather than merely religious fanaticism was the real problem, and that religious fanaticism in our highly secularized society could only go so far. This mutation into a secular fanaticism, equally rigid and dysfunctional, equally tyrannical, and equally anti-intellectual, is far greater cause for concern.

Political Fundamentalism is the continuation of the Inquisition, adapting to a changing world in an attempt to prevent the world itself from adapting to changing circumstances and insights, creating an obstruction to the continuation of the growth and application of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. Political Fundamentalism can be found all over the political ideological spectrum, just as religious fundamentalism can be found all over the religious spectrum, and, in both cases, the differences in ideological particulars are less compelling than the similarities in attitude. But the currently most dangerous form of Political Fundamentalism in America is the right-wing version, comprised of the three elements already named.

“Constitutional Idolatry,” the first element I wrote about, is the conversion of an historical document meant to provide a somewhat flexible legal doctrine and framework into a sacred text the caricature of which must be rigidly adhered to according to some non-existent and impossible literal interpretation. And “Liberty Idolatry,” the second element I wrote about, is the reduction of the concept of “liberty” to one divorced from consideration of interdependence and mutual responsibility, defending freedoms independently of consideration of the harm they may inflict on others or on all.

The third element in the unholy trinity of Political Fundamentalism is Small Government Idolatry. It is a fixed belief that smaller government is always better, that lower taxes and less spending are always better, that “government is the problem” (as Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed, ushering in a movement that will long be the bane of our attempts at designing and implementing reasonable proactive policies and public investments). Like its strongly intertwined fellow travelers, Constitutional Idolatry and Liberty Idolatry, it is a fixed belief, impervious to reason and evidence, insulated from compelling counterarguments or sensible attempts to achieve balance and moderation. It is a force for the contraction of the human mind, opposition to reason and knowledge, and obstruction of progress, at a very real and tragic cost in increased human suffering and decreased human welfare.

An argument against Small Government Idolatry is not an argument for big government (just as an argument against Constitutional Idolatry is not an argument against the Constitution, and an argument against Liberty Idolatry is not an argument against liberty). It is an argument in favor of doing the analysis, in favor of applying our principles knowledgeably and rationally in the context of a complex and subtle world, on a case-by-case basis. It is an argument for facing the responsibilities we have to one another and to future generations, utilizing authentic economic analyses rather than ideological pseudo-economic platitudes to balances the demands imposing themselves on government against the real economic and fiscal constraints that must discipline how these demands are met.

A blind commitment to “small government” is both humanly and fiscally irresponsible, for most economists, other social scientists, and lawyers recognize the inevitably large role that modern governments must play in modern economies, even independently of the demands that a commitment to social justice and improved equity impose on them. I’ve frequently referenced the role of information asymmetries in creating an absolute imperative that we continue to develop our regulatory infrastructure to keep pace with the opportunities to play the market system to individual advantage at sometimes catastrophic public expense. We’ve seen examples in the Enron-engineered California energy crisis of 2000-2001, and the financial sector collapse that nearly catalized a second Great Depression in 2008. Designing, implementing, and enforcing functional rules of the game for our complex market economy is an essential function of government, and one which already destroys the notion that a government too small too meet that need is preferable to one large enough to do so.

It is also fiscally, as well as humanly, irresponsible to let the problems of extreme poverty, child abuse and neglect, frequently unsuccessful public schools, high rates of violent crime, poor public health and inadequate healthcare for many, and other similar and related social problems, all of which form a mutually reinforcing matrix of dysfunctionality and growing problems that both undermine the safety and welfare of us all, and end up costing us far more to react to (with astronomical rates of very expensive incarceration, and other costs of dependency and predation) than it would have cost us to proactively address.

The fiscal concerns that the Political Fundamentalists identify are not to be disregarded, or treated as irrelevant, but rather are one set of considerations among many, to be included in a complete analysis rather than treated as always and forever dispositive independently of any application of reason or knowledge to the question of whether it is actually dispositive or not. The challenge of self-governance requires utilizing our fully developed and focused cognitive capacities, applied to all available information, in pursuit of intelligent and well-conceived policies. It is undermined by the imposition of an a priori set of fixed certainties that are impervious to both knowledge and reason.

We need, in our political discourse, less fundamentalism and more analysis, less idolatry and more (and better) methodology, less false certainty and more foundational humility. We need less deference to fixed and static beliefs, and more to our process by which we test our beliefs and improve upon them. We need less commitment to ideologies, and more commitment to working together as reasonable people of goodwill, doing the best we can to confront the challenges and opportunities of a complex and subtle world.

Tea Party Fanatics Believe the Means Justify the Ends: Just a couple of days after a Tea Partier, in an on-line conversation with me, criticized Democratic Party get-out-the-vote efforts, not only on the paranoid basis that it is a secret attempt to access personal information, but also because  many voters “[have] no idea what the issues are or the qualifications of the candidate,” the Denver Post reports on increasing voter intimidation tactics by Tea Party fanatics ( Actual violence by a (male) Rand Paul volunteer against a (female) volunteer just before a debate between Paul and his Democratic opponent, a fortunately thus far exceptional event in American politics, may be just an isolated incident, or it may be indicative of the general disdain for democracy increasingly in evidence among Tea Party fanatics.  Just yesterday I wrote about The Tea Party’s Mistaken Historical Analogy, drawing parallels between the Tea Party’s anti-intellectualism and disdain for the poor with mid-twentieth century European Fascism. Continuing evidence of the parallels should raise people’s awareness of how corrosive and dangerous this movement really is.

9News removed the anti-Perlmutter ad that the Denver Post had called “a whopper,” 9News had called “false,” and 7News called “fiction,” the last adding, “Perlmutter did not vote for a bill to allow rapists access to Viagra.”  (, Saturday Night Briefs: Deceptive Political Ads & Dogmatic Intolerance). Another example of the Far Right’s extreme tactics.  Negative ads are one thing, but even some unfortunately mainstream excesses, such as taking quotes out of context don’t rise to this level of outright deception. The Tea Party is upping the ante in electoral deception and distinctly unethical conduct. Shadowy right-wing groups attacking Democratic candidates with outright lies so egregious that television stations have to pull ads (in another break from the previous standard, the groups themselves refuse to when called on the deception), along with the observations noted above and yesterday, need to start registering on the collective consciousness.

Not only does it mark a new level of outright deception and voter intimidation, but The Tea Party is based on the notion that we are better governed by the arbitrary opinions of uninformed lay people than by any degree of professionalization of governance (New Tea Party Bumper Sticker: “If It Isn’t Dumb, It Isn’t Right”, John Andrews Recommends Protecting CU From Intellectuals).  The horrors of the rise of fascist and communist totalitarianisms in Europe and Asia in the early and mid-20th century were preceded by just such populist rejections of moderation and professionalism in governance, embracing instead demagogues who promised to cure government of those defects.

We have enjoyed, longer than any other country, a modern democracy characterized by a high degree of professionalism and moderation in our governance. We need to preserve and reassert our collective commitment to maintaining both, especially as such a distinctly immoderate and anti-professional movement is so passionately on the rise.

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The Tea Partiers are More Like 2oth Century European Totalitarians than 18th Century American Revolutionaries. The original Tea Parties on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States immediately prior to the American Revolution, though more complex and less noble than American mythology would have it, were not the anti-intellectual and anti-empathy movements that the modern Tea Party is. Those characteristics align our own contemporary movement more with 20th century European Fascism and Eastern European/Asian Communism than with liberty-loving American revolutionaries. And The Tea Party’s ideology is even in some ways quite similar to the anti-government sentiments that inflamed the Russian populace to support a revolution that put into place a government more autocratic and repressive than the one it overthrew.

Both the Central European fascist countries (Germany, Italy, Spain), and the Eastern European and Asian communist countries, were deeply imbued with a passionate anti-intellectualism, always identifying intellectuals with the hated scapegoats (often Jews), or sometimes identifying intellectuals themselves as the primary hated scapegoats (as the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia). This tracks closely with the Tea Party’s identification of American intellectuals as the “elitists” they most fervently despise, and with their idolization of distinctly non-intellectual (and non-intelligent) leaders such as Sarah Palin.

The indifference to, or outright hostility toward, the poor as freeloaders on hard-working people also more closely tracks European fascism than it does American founding principles and ideas. Part of the “smaller government” message of Tea Partiers, that I encounter in virtually every interaction, is some statement about how the left insists on taking money away from those who earn it to give it to those who are too lazy to work. This characterization is, of course, far removed from reality, in which poverty exists for a multitude of structural reasons, has far more to do with the chances of birth than with individual merit and effort, and involves tremendous suffering by the most innocent members of society, our children. But the complete absence of empathy, or of understanding of the realities of the problems we face, combined with antipathy toward intellectuals (and particularly empathetic intellectuals) who accept the social responsibility of seeking systemic ways to address those problems, makes our Tea Partiers far more analogous to Fascists than to American Revolutionaries.

But certainly the Tea Partiers aren’t totalitarians; that would seem to be the exact opposite of what they stand for, right? Wrong. Opposition to government per se, and liberal use of the word “liberty,” do not necessarily imply a movement that is not essentially totalitarian, even if unbeknownst to the majority of its adherents. The Russian peasants that facilitated the Boleshevik revolution were trying to oust an oppressive government, not usher one in. And they made the same exact mistake that our modern Tea Partiers do, and that our American Revolutionaries did not: They look more to the promises of people who claim to represent their interests, than to the careful design of social institutions, to ensure that their interests are being addressed.

The Tea Partiers ignore completely what social scientists call “the agency problem,” the challenge of aligning the interests of agents (elected officials) with those of the principal (those they represent), instead happily and haplessly investing all of their faith in those who claim to be their champions. They are, as cognitive scientist George Lakoff noted in his book The Political Mind, actually inherently driven more by an authoritarian ideology than by one committed to liberty, though they clothe that authoritarianism in a professed commitment to liberty.

The Tea Party does not object to government as an oppressor of the downtrodden, but rather as an ally of the downtrodden, perceiving this commitment as an infringement on the advantages enjoyed by those who have drawn an at least adequate lot in life. It is a movement heavily funded by corporate wealth, which sees in this opposition to an empathetic government a population that will complacently allow corporate America to continue its advance in the recapture of government as an agent of the most privileged at the expense of the least privileged, rather than as an agent of the populace as a whole, striving to preserve the robustness of our economy, while addressing the demands of increased equality of opportunity and sustainability. 

What brought this comparison to mind today was an article in The Economist on Germany’s resurgence, and the angst associated with it due to Germany’s unavory mid-20th Century past ( As I was reading the description of the kinds of xenophobic, scape-goating attitudes that Germany has actually in recent times managed to exhibit to a far lesser rather than greater degree than many other nations (most notably The United States), but that any trace of which still raise concerns among Europeans about a resurgent Germany, I couldn’t help but think “if those trends concern you, they should concern you where they are currently most robust: in The United States of America.”

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Yes, Denver Post’s most insane and inane columnist, John Andrews, published a column today advising that we need to defeat Harvard Law graduate, former Supreme Court clerk, and current CU Law professor Melissa Hart for CU regent, because we have to protect the university from professors ( And he doesn’t just mean protect governance of the university from any representation of faculty at all (there are currently none on the Board of Regents), but actually protecting the academy itself from its traditional definition as the home of academic discipline. Instead, Andrews assures us, the people want it to be more representative of popular opinion, and so we should impose a rule that the university affirmatively hire professors more representative of popular opinion.

Here’s what Andrew’s doesn’t get: Scholarship is a discipline, a methodology through which to distill observation and interpretation in ways far more useful for understanding systemic, causal relationships than any previous approach. Imposing on it some a priori requirement to represent a certain spectrum of lay beliefs is completely antithetical to its purpose, and what has set western science apart as a robust system of thought.

And it is precisely the kind of Medieval approach to knowledge that science and scholarship have whittled away at, this imposition of arbitrary cultural beliefs rather than subjecting them to the lathe of systematic scrutiny. One would have hoped that the battle over whether arbitrary opinion or systematic thought subjected to scientific methodology is superior in accuracy would have been settled by now, since we have about 400 years of experience pretty decisively settling it. But, alas, it is not to be so. Andrews quotes that any handful of random people know more than a cross-section of experts on the subject of their expertise, parroting a popular but absurd ideological conviction.

Andrews’ examples all prove his error: The stimulus package did avert an economic disaster, and was cost-effective, in light of the non-partisan CBO’s conclusion that it created between 1.3 million and 3.4 million jobs (do the math). Roosevelt’s New Deal spending, despite the information-deprived ideology to the contrary, resulted in about five years of phenomenal economic growth during the Great Depression, until FDR, seduced by this success, tried to implement budget-balancing measures.

Arbitrary opinion “benefits” from neither being tested, nor allowing itself to be tested, so that it can always declare itself correct despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And Andrews wants to “storm the gates” (in the words of his preferred candidate for regent) of the last refuge of systematic academic thought in America, and reduce it to just another ideological echo-chamber, under the delusion that he and his fellow Inquisitors are doing just the opposite.

Like his predecessors over the centuries, those products of scientific methodology that are inconvenient to his ideology are heresies, and the fact that the academy systematically dispells the absurdities that his camp clings to (evolution is a myth, etc.) means that it must be a left-wing ideological echo-chamber. Because in Andrews’ Bizarro world, all belief is arbitrary, but his arbitrary beliefs are absolute truths.

The Inquisition is returning in full force, folks. John the Inquisitor has long been writing such drivel, and the Denver Post has long been irresponsible enough to privilege it with column space (along with others, like Vince Carroll, who contribute to the vacuuming of intelligence from the minds of his loyal readers). “Political Fundamentalism” is a force to be reckoned with. And we had better reckon with it, very, very assertively.

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(This is the second in a series of four posts which discuss Tea Party “Political Fundamentalism”, comprised of the unholy trinity of “Constitutional Idolatry”, Liberty Idolatry, and Small Government Idolatry.)

There’s something fascinating about the Tea Party, about the combination of grass roots energy, passionate conviction, profound ignorance, “Constitutional Idolatry”, and well, popularly imposed political dysfunctionality. The similarity to, and overlap with, its previously most robust incarnation, in the Christian Fundamentalist movement that has been such a major presence in conservative politics since the 1980’s, is striking. But it’s the continuation of the progress of this particular populist disease, like the nation’s auto-immune system attacking the body it was activated to protect, triggered in opposition to real infections, but doing the nation far more harm than those infections ever would have.

Mike Littwin coined the title phrase in his excellent column on the Tea Party phenomenon in today’s Denver Post ( I’ve always thought that the two sides in the debate whether the Tea Party is an organically arising grass roots movement, or a creation of wealthy corporate conservative donors manipulating and exploiting popular angst to their own advantage, missed the obvious: It’s a synergy between the two.

The Tea Party isn’t the only example of political fundamentalism in America. There are political fundamentalists on the left as well, those who think that the Tea Party, Obama, and the OFA, in which all actors are a “faux”-something-or-other, are all involved in “a pincer movement” controlled by “corporate fascists,” launching a concerted assault on all of the “true”-something-or-others (as one particularly shallow and intolerant-of-dissent left-wing blogger put it on SquareState recently). Michael Bennet, of course, and the Obama/OFA organized “theft” of the Colorado Democratic U.S. Senate primary are the principal mustache-twirling villains in the story (with Andrew Romanoff tied to the tracks as a steam engine chugged toward him?).

The similarities between these conflicting fundamentalisms are far more significant than the differences, in much the same way that the similarities between Christian and Muslim fundamentalists are far more striking than the differences. They are all edifices of assumed truths, oversimplified constructs informed by superficial understandings of complex dynamics, constantly reinforced with post hoc rationalizations and interpretations. And they are highly militant, utterly uncompromising (indeed, seeing any compromise as betrayal), trumpeting some kind of call-to-arms or another against some externalized enemy that renders the inherently innocent populous mere dupes of the all-powerful villains.

But left-wing fundamentalism in America, while certainly no better than right-wing fundamentalism, is far less of a threat, because it has attracted far fewer adherents. In a country in which a significant portion of the electorate calls Obama and Michael Bennet “socialists,” the overwrought left-wingers who call them willing agents of corporate fascism are about as significant as a disheveled guy on 16th Street Mall wearing a sandwich placard announcing impending doom. (I’m not disputing the alarming role that corporate money plays in American politics, but rather its reduction to an oversimplified narrative  of “good guys” and “bad guys”, the former defined as all those who both agree on all points with the speaker and refuse to make any compromises, and the latter as any who either disagree with the speaker on any point or work within the system as it is, whether to reform it or to preserve it.)

It is right-wing political fundamentalism in America which marks the progress of the disease that has been incubating since our conception, a sort of proud anti-intellectualism that generally has privileged ignorance over knowledge, false certainty over humility, and dogma over analysis. Many who were concerned about this undercurrent of American culture saw Christian Fundamentalism as its most threatening incarnation, but Christian Fundamentalism was never something that would grow beyond certain bounds: The country as a whole had become too libertine, too materialistic, and too pragmatic for it to have spread much farther than it already had.

However, like a virus that “knows” it had found the limits of its reproductive vitality, and mutates in order to be able to spread, Christian Fundamentalism secularized itself, transforming itself into political fundamentalism, replacing biblical idolatry with constitutional idolatry, altering its memes to better resonate with more people, focusing all of its self-destructive militant energy on causes which any uninformed individual can easily embrace.

With this mutation of American fundamentalism, the disease is raging like a fire through the polity, a mania, made only more robust and threatening by the attempt by wealthy corporate interests to foment and co-opt the spread of the disease itself (Systems Analysis, Politics, and the Uneasy Alliance of Ignorance and Privilege). But it may be more accurate to say that the disease is co-opting the wealthy corporate interests: True to the auto-immune disease metaphor, the virus has co-opted the central nervous system in an out-of-control synergy of self-destruction. And it is a phenomenon truly worthy of concern.

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Susan Greene’s column in today’s Denver Post ( discusses the current CU Board of Regents, and the choices Coloradans have. Sue Sharkey, a Republican reactionary in the 4th Congressional District running for regent of our flagship university, states that “[c]ollege graduates are more likely to be liberalized than non-college graduates.” Her solution to this unacceptable result of receiving a higher education is to impose upon it her ideological agenda. Steve Bosley, a current regent, was one of four to vote no on “Preserving the Independence of the Board of Regents,” a vote on whether to appeal an appellate court decision that regents cannot ban concealed weaons on campus. At a Tea Party rally, Bosley said, “We’re the storm troopers. The storm troopers are going to take back America.”

One important measure of a civilization is how much it appreciates and cultivates the gift of human consciousness, and how sincerely it aspires to be a bastion of wisdom and compassion. The term “a liberal education” refers to our tradition of striving to ensure that as many of our young people as possible are guided through an exploration of human knowledge, learning about humanity, who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going. Our universities are indeed our temples of human knowledge and thought, where we go to learn and to create new knowledge, to investigate the complexities and subtleties of our world and universe, to improve our ability to act wisely.

Not only is America under attack by self-proclaimed  “storm troopers” admittedly determined to undermine our commitment to providing a broad and comprehensive education to our young people, but they are currently the majority on the Board of Regents of Colorado’s flagship university. When a large and vocal minority, passionate, angry, militant, motivated by the desire to catalyze and assist the contraction of the human mind and the human heart, by the rejection of wisdom and compassion, by the advocacy of ignorance and belligerence, succeed in taking over our temples of wisdom, our institutions for cultivating human consciousness, it is not hyperbole to suggest that this is a threat to the very foundation of what it means to be a civilized nation.

Coloradan’s do have a choice this November. As Susan Greene wrote,  “The at-large race is a statewide referendum on what we want the regency to be.” By extension, it’s about something more than that as well: It’s a statewide referendum on what kind of a people we want to be. Melissa Hart, the CU Law professor who is a Harvard Law graduate and former U.S. Supreme Court clerk, represents the choice to be a civilized people committed to wisdom and compassion. The alternative is to allow one more victory of a movement determined to force America to worship at the alter of ignorance and belligerence. Let’s not falter in the face of this truly consequential challenge.

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