Clinton or Trump for president: What that says about America

Fracture.

There are as many ways to say what this means for America as there are Americans, though most people are baffled and couldn’t answer the question of how the primary season of Election 2016 began and ended as it did.

To recall (it seems so long ago now), that long season started out with a wide field of Republican candidates of different strengths and weaknesses entering primary season many months ago, and wound up with perhaps the least likely one of all as the party nominee. And the Democratic Party’s two candidates were longtime Washington insiders in an anti-establishment climate, though Sen. Bernie Sanders convincingly represented himself as the oustsiders’ candidate.

On the final primary day of 2016, Hillary Clinton prevailed to become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump had already arrived as the Republican candidate weeks ago. This is about as unlikely as it gets.

Of all the commentaries and analyses out there to date, one of the most incisive and clarifying accounts comes from Yuval Levin and his new book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.

Some highlights from his book, and the conversation I had with him on radio this week…

One of his main themes and central points is that American party politics is stuck in nostalgia for an earlier time when each party believed things were good, or as they should be, and should be again now. For the Democrats, he says, it’s 1965, for Republicans, it’s 1981.

“There’s a sense that everything is breaking down, that America doesn’t work like it used to,” he told me. “The defining theme is that America is not what it used to be. The middle of the 20th Century is the time most people in politics are most nostalgic for now.”

I asked him about his book’s reversal of the perception that we’re in the start of a new phase of American politics, whereas he contends we’re experiencing the end of the last one. “It is the last gasp of an exhausted and nostalgic baby-boomer politics”, he claims.

“So now we have this political situation with two 70 year old candidates yelling at each other over the best way to go backward,” he told me. “And it’s very hard to imagine that as the beginning of the next phase of American politics. In this election we’re seeing the crashing of the baby-boomer centered approach to political life. The question is really what comes next.”

Well put.

Levin continues: “Our problems are distinct to this moment. We would do much better to empower problem solvers throughout the country instead of looking to one leader or a handful. Power has been flowing upward toward Washington. But we have a better chance of addressing problems if we allowed power to flow through communities and institutions. Family, community, church, school, civic institutions.”

Refreshing ideas, and proven to be true from the past, ironically. “The more public policy can be decentralized, the better the hope that it’s going to be more effective, more in line with our Constitution, more in line with what’s going to work better,” he continued. “Most people are persuaded that the way our government works now is not working.The way politics have been handled results in absurdities like the president of the United States deciding who should use which bathrooms in schools.”

Solving problems at the most local level is known, in social teaching, as subsidiarity, and Levin points to that as the ideal. “One thing we do now is embody this idea that the solutions are going to come from our communities,” he said. “Take care of our own problems directly, not wait for someone else. Take, embody and populate institutions that take on problems directly. There’s a great passage in Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville that says ‘When there are problems to be solved, Americans don’t fold their arms and wait for an official to show up, they take it upon themselves’. That’s the spirit we need to have in this election.

Levin says the struggle for religious liberty is central for subsidiarity in this society. “There’s such resistance from the government to allow institutions that embody the moral impulse to take care of things in this country” he said. “This must be fought at the local level.”

However, a convincing pragmatism helps. “It’s important that we who think we have solutions need to make them attractive to political leaders and our fellow voters,” Levin added. “In order to make them politically powerful, you first have to make them attractive to your neighbors. And then your political leaders.”

Start now, if you haven’t already. There may be months left, but they’re going fast. And the year has proven that anything can happen. Even, and especially, the unforeseen.

Abolish the Department of Education

I’m hearing this from more voices now.

The most recent being columnist Dennis Byrne.

Here’s a way for taxpayers to save billions of dollars while improving education:

Get rid of standardized tests. Get rid of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires the tests. Get rid of the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the tests. Free us from having to pay for this pointless extravagance.

This should be especially apparent with allegations of adult cheating (Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere) to boost student test scores to meet idealized benchmarks set by legions of “experts.” Those allegations, of course, require the deployment of more legions of experts to hunt down frightened or fed-up teachers and administrators caught in the gears of this Rube Goldberg contrivance.

You don’t need more studies or tests to know that this whole scheme has done little in the years since it was installed as a national priority to quiet the alarms about American students. But the alarms have become more thunderous, requiring the application of ever more stringent and costly measures. It’s as mindless as Dark Ages bleeding; if bleeding off a pint doesn’t improve the patient, take a quart.

Attention-grabbing, but because it so resembles the truth.

Last week I had Dr. Anthony Bradley as a guest on my radio show and this was the topic of conversation for that ‘closer look’ at inner-city schools and the failure of the bureaucracy of education.

As Congress moves toward reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the problem is not that the Department of Education is not doing enough but that it suffers from an acute case of what psychologists call “organizational narcissism.” If they really wish to address America’s inner-city public school crisis, federal education officials must look beyond the boundaries of their own agencies and recognize the crucial role of churches.

Steven Churchill, of the Center for Organizational Design, explains that organizations can have a grandiose sense of self-importance and an inflated judgment of their own accomplishments, leading to “an unreal, self-defeating preoccupation with the company’s own image.” For example, even with overwhelming evidence that, other than family support, church involvement is the most consistent predictor of academic success for inner-city children, the organizational narcissism of the education industry prevents it from tapping into the resources of black and Latino churches.

He made many good points, in fact the hour was loaded with them. The ‘War on Poverty’ has failed. Education reform hasn’t improved our public schools and especially inner-city schools, or access to them. Government programs separated from the influence of families and local churches fail. This is proven and easy to see, for anyone who looks.

In “Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students’ Educational Outcomes,” Dr. Brian Barrett, an education professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland, describes the unique contributions black churches play in cultivating successful students in the inner-cities. He observed that “religious socialization reinforces attitudes, outlooks, behaviors, and practices … particularly through individuals’ commitment to and adoption of the goals and expectations of the group” that are conducive to “positive educational outcomes.”  In fact, back in 2009 Barrett reported that for black inner-city youth who reported attending religious services often, the black/white achievement gap “was eliminated.”

Barrett reports that one of the most important advantages of inner-city churches is that they provide “a community where Black students are valued, both for their academic success and, more broadly, as human beings and members of society with promise, with talents to contribute, and from whom success is to be expected.” Churches also affirm inner-city youth as trusted members of a community that celebrates academic success, and the practices that produce it, which overrides the low expectations communicated at school. Additionally, Barrett highlights the ways in which black churches, because they are equipped to deal with families, are effective at sustaining and encouraging parental educational involvement from the heart as well as providing contexts where youth can have regular contact with other adults for role-modeling and mentoring.

The fact that they don’t or won’t see this at the federal level, while layering on more and more federal jobs in the Department of Education, proves Bradley’s point about the ‘organizational narcissim.’ He also adds that those bureaucrats know that with increased involvement of churches, the Department of Education would lose the lock on control they now have. Never mind that it’s dysfunctional.

“When more government programs came the breakdown of the family,” Dr. Bradley told me. “It fostered a culture of irresponsibility. The whole system needs to be radically restructered. It’s not a resource problem. Throwing more dollars into more technology for classrooms isn’t the solution, clearly. We need to ask better questions. Why isn’t the church part of the educational policy for this administration? Black pastors haven’t been invited into the Obama administration Department of Education planning.” He makes this point in his article ‘Inner-city education fails without the church.’

In 2008, President Obama rightly acknowledged that, “There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child’s education from day one.” This is an indisputable truth. What should baffle every American citizen is that the role of inner-city ethnic churches is oddly missing from the Obama administration’s education reform vision.

Faith-based initiatives work when they are tried. School choice and the voucher system do, too. The principle of subsidiarity works.

Dennis Byrne concludes:

It will take nothing less than a revolution by fed-up Americans to break the hold that this cartel has on our children.

Anthony Bradley concluded, on radio, that…

We need a lay movement to be launched. We need paople to operate out of their convictions that this problem must be solved. We need people in the pews to be at school board meetings to put forward new solutions, backed by data, what’s known to work. And that’s new for us as Americans, because we’re used to coming to the aid of people in crisis in other countries. This is in the crisis category, but it’s happening here.

We need a bailout, from government intervention.

Suddenly, an old television public service spot just came to mind. “It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?”

It’s school time, and the same question applies.

Now that Obamacare comes to light

Remember when Sen. Nancy Pelosi said they had to sign the healthcare bill to know what was in it? Well it has come to light, and some people are troubled by what it reveals.

Dr. Donalid Condit says it’s a big document loaded with sugar-coated rhetoric covering a bitter pill to swallow.

This ObamaCare prescription  threatens patients, the physicians who care for them, and the common good. The only clear winners are the consultants and lawyers busy trying to decipher this 429-page tome of acronyms and encrypted methodology that will compromise the doctor-patient relationship and is contrary to the principle of subsidiarity.

Very good point.

Medicare beneficiaries will be “assigned” to 5,000 patient-minimum organizations to coordinate their care. While HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius talks about improvement in care, the politically poisonous truth is that Medicare is going broke and ACOs are designed to save money. The words “rationing” or “treatment denial” or “withholding care” are not part of her press release, but reading the regulations reveals intentions to “share savings” with those who fulfill, or “penalize” others who fall short of, the administration’s objectives. The administration’s talking points include politically palatable words which emphasize quality improvement and care enhancement when the real objective is cost control by a utilitarian calculus.

Physicians and other health care providers will find themselves in conflict with the traditional ethos of duty to patient within ACOs.

Somebody has to point this out. The moral medicine we have taken for granted, that’s now under new threat.

Ever increasing numbers of doctors are leaving private practice and becoming employed by hospitals, due to a variety of challenges inherent in these uncertain times . The hospitals are the most likely recipient of bundled payments for caring for Medicare patients. Doctors will face agency conflicts between the time honored primary duty to patient, which may conflict with hospital administration, and ACO goals of fiscal savings. Medical care providers will receive incentives for controlling spending, and penalties if they do not. “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Not even physicians.

The physician’s ACO conundrum is illustrated in the language where these regulations proclaim that,  “Providers should be accountable for the cost of care, and be rewarded for reducing unnecessary expenditures and be responsible for excess expenditures.”

This is chilling.

Yet the very next sentence stipulates that, “In reducing excess expenditures, providers should continually improve the quality of care they deliver and must honor their commitment to do no harm to beneficiaries.” (page 14)

Doublespeak? Where is this leading?

The principle of subsidiarity guides policy makers to empower decision making and scarce health care resource allocation at the doctor-patient level. However, the Affordable Care Act moves in the opposite direction.

There is no question that significant – and scarce — health care resources are consumed in the Medicare population toward the end of life. ACOs intend to limit this spending — the government way. The Ethical and Religious Directives by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops suggest a better path forward…