GOP presidential firing line

I don’t think these shootouts among the Republican presidential candidates are good for anybody. Except the Democratic Party come 2012 in the general election, when they’ll be using clips in campaign ads.

The best questioning of the candidates by far was in the American Principles Palmetto Freedom Forum. I wrote about it before. It bears repeating.

Five major GOP candidates stood nakedly on the stage, taking deep questions about constitutional principles—without a podium or a reporter in sight—for 20 minutes.

Strong, new, and newsworthy commitments emerged from almost all of the candidates on social issues, aka “civil rights.”

For the first time, presidential candidates were asked: Does the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection apply to unborn human beings, and if so, doesn’t Congress have express constitutional authority to enforce this guarantee?

(Herman Cain told me afterward that this was the one question that surprised him.)

Michele Bachmann opened ground on the life issue by saying “yes,” while Mitt Romney showed he understood George’s question by saying he would decline to create a “constitutional crisis” over the issue by confronting the court and instead would pledge to appoint justices who would interpret the Constitution correctly.

Ron Paul retreated to his Maginot Line of “states rights.” Murder, he points out, is a state issue and so should abortion be. Well, yes, pointed out George, unless and until some state decides to deprive a whole class of human beings of the protection of their lives, in which case the 14th Amendment expressly authorizes Congress (not the courts) to step in to remedy this gross violation of civil rights.

Also newsworthy: For the first time, all the major contenders (except Texas Gov. Rick Perry) have pledged to nominate a vice presidential candidate who supports life and marriage. Romney at first left himself some wiggle room, but in the end firmly committed to a pro-life, pro-marriage veep: “These are important enough issues that the person I select would share my views,” he promised.

And for the first time, major presidential candidates committed to protecting people and religious organizations in danger of being excluded from the public square because they do not support gay marriage or gay adoption.

That was the one and only such forum, which established the model for what they all should be. The debates since then have reverted to the standard model of panelist firing line and candidate stump speech answers.

What good came out of this debate? I really liked the ideas of how to get the government out of its chokehold on public education and open the system to school choice, voucher, and the primacy of parental involvement in their child’s education. The healthcare issue was crystallized most sharply when Herman Cain recounted his personal drama of cancer diagnosis and swift lifesaving treatment because he had the option to pursue the treatment he needed quickly when doctors gave him a 30 percent survival chance. Under Obamacare, he said, he would likely not have survived the bureaucratic process.

This is personal at this point, having just gone through this in my family. But my family has gone through several things that are bell ringers in these presidential debates, and the values we hold about human rights and dignity are squarely at the center of the debate.

Interestingly, Ron Paul consistently polls a strong third place in this race so far, and someone made the point that in the last election campaign, he did the same and the two frontrunners then were Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, and they fairly quickly fell away.

So what does this mean? It’s early, and there’s a lot yet to happen.

What happened to school choice?

I’m told it’s the political power of unions. Makes me wonder about all the good teachers trapped in a system without the power to express or carry out their own ideas.

Dr. John Sparks is concerned, too, and we spoke late last week about the problems. Here’s how he expressed it in his latest column for the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal calls 2011 the “year of school choice.” Parents and the legislators who represent them, particularly in inner-city schools, are tired of waiting for the promised effects of “educational reform” on the public schools their children attend. Therefore, according to the Wall Street Journal, in one form or another, 13 states have passed school-choice legislation, and similar changes are proposed in 28 other states. Such legislation often permits the formation of publicly financed “charter schools,” which are run by new schools boards whose members insist upon an educational environment that will produce real learning.

Despite progress in many places, New York City children, many of them African-American, may not be able to return to charters or start in them anew in the fall due to a lawsuit instituted against the NYC’s Department of Education by what would seem to be a tragically ironic twosome: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

What? That doesn’t make sense. Sparks makes the point, connecting the dots.

One would certainly assume that NYC’s charter program—which would allow parents to withdraw their children from the 22 poor public schools in New York and move them to effective charter or other schools—would be eagerly supported by the NAACP and the UFT. After all, these are schools deemed (by pre-established criteria) to be “failing.” But that is not the case. Why?

Perhaps one could understand the UFT, long an ideological champion of public schools, no matter how poorly they perform, engaging in such a suit, but why the NAACP, in light of its announced commitment to black and Latino youths and their parents? Here is a case where political/ideological dedication to the public-school monopoly is stronger than loyalty to the very people which the NAACP is pledged to help.

Fortunately, NYC parents with children attending or about to enter charter schools in the fall are not committed to this ideological blindness. They simply want the good schooling for their children that educational choice provides, and they are speaking out.

Good for them. In fact, Hooray for them. Outraged parents are telling the UFT their time’s up.

The same could be said to the NAACP. How can an organization supposedly committed to helping blacks and other minority groups climb the educational ladder file a lawsuit to obstruct educational opportunities for what amounts to 7,000 of New York’s most disadvantaged kids? Black parents have a right to be perplexed, frustrated, and outraged by such a stance.

The Economist reports that another parent, Ny Whittaker, whose child attends a Harlem charter school, summarized it well: the “NAACP is on the wrong side of history.”

So is the US Department of Education, at this point. In operation only since 1980, note this part of its original stated mission:

The Department’s mission is: to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Seriously. Each time I’ve brought that up in an interview, someone inevitably expresses incredulous surprise.

Which makes the case for a movement to respect education and equal access to it as the civil rights issue it is.