This is the second part of my last post/essay that ended with mission of revealing the truth, even if it is ugly.
When I first joined the Louisiana Department of Education it was during a Democratic Governor’s administration, Governor Kathleen Blanco. However education reformers were filtering in like former LDOE Superintendent Paul Pastorek. With them came new ideas, but also urgings to be less than forthcoming on some results and reports. Many of our metrics were tinkered with behind the scenes – to help individual districts and regional Louisiana power brokers. This bothered me, but I was told that’s “just the way it is.”
Regardless of who is in power, they all want to show themselves and their initiatives in the most positive light.
That’s the game.
Democrats and Republican’s both rationalize shading (also lying or concealing) as a means to an end. They believe their ends justify their means. I was told stories by my colleagues about previous administrations of both Republicans like Mike Foster and Democrats like Edwin Edwards, and whatever Buddy Roemer was (he was elected Governor as a Democrat and lost his reelection bid as a Republican), that backed this assertion up.
When Jindal came to power the game changed . . . a lot. Beyond simple “shading” of results we entered a phase of full-blown falsification and manipulation of results to show specific outcomes for specific benefactors. In the past this game was usually handled discreetly and with minor omissions or re-characterizations of data after it was gathered. Anyone with enough time and understanding could have delved into the data and discovered their own versions of the truth.
Under Paul Pastorek’s and John White’s administrations this has taken the form of detailed plans developed with forethought and engineered for some very specific and targeted purposes. Namely to show traditional schools in a negative light and charter schools and reform initiatives as positively as possible. Some of these initiatives and the gerrymandering of results were known to Governor Jindal (like vouchers and charter schools), and approved by him. Other initiatives were not but he was sold on and later (and regretted) like Common Core, inBloom, and Value Added Modeling (VAM) for measuring teachers.
(VAM measures teachers by linking them to student tests scores, but this method is statistically invalid and difficult to account for students at the upper and lower ends of the achievement spectrums. VAM results have also been directly altered by the John White Administration to achieve specific results for specific teachers.)
When you permit your subordinates to shade or distort the truth for your own personal benefits and gains you walk a slippery slope that rarely ends well.
When our political leaders gave agencies like the CIA, FBI, IRS and NSA duties to perform (protect the United States) and failed to properly oversee, monitor and constrain them we got these agencies reinterpreting their own missions to include warrantless wiretapping, torturing and assassinating Americans, allowing these agencies to lie to Congress, and rationalizing handing over some major artillery to drug gangs. It is imperative that our public institutions be open to the public and above reproach to prevent corruption, fraud, waste and avoidable tragic outcomes. When we permit agencies and agency heads the discretion to lie to the public just to defend their policies from proper review and oversight we pervert the entire meaning of democratic rule.
The Jindal Administration has lost control of their agencies in Louisiana by encouraging department heads like John White of LDOE and the now indicted Bruce Greenstein of DHH to lie and distort facts to promote their agenda and goals. When you have control of the data that reviews your own policies, and you alter that data (or allow your subordinates to alter or mischaracterize the data) you prevent the public from properly evaluating your performance and the efficacy of your policies. When you refuse to allow others to look at your data, as John White and LDOE regularly does, you corrupt the democratic process. People are forced to judge you based on the propaganda you have provided them and cannot make informed decisions. Jindal won’t be in office forever, but his precedents for lying and concealing documents under “deliberative process” exceptions and from straight up refusals requiring court orders will live on long after he becomes a failed presidential candidate.
Informed decision making is necessary for a healthy democracy.
When you allow your subordinates to lie, you may also be caught up in those lies. Lies beget more lies to cover them up. Eventually you don’t even know the truth because no one really does. Without accurate evaluation of your policies you can’t determine if they are good or bad, how to make them better or which ones to terminate. Your subordinates may also decide to lie and distort their performance for their own personal benefits and agendas as John White and Bruce Greenstein appear to have done. The Jindal administration is only now coming to terms with how their subordinates lied and distorted more than they were unofficially authorized to do. This is what the IRS, CIA, and NSA have done, which Congress and the Obama administration have been coming to terms with. As a leader, once you normalize lying, distortion and corruption you lose the ability to control who is doing it or what they are lying about, and you transfer power from yourself to your subordinates. At this point you are at their mercy and subject to whatever they choose to say . . . or not say.
I think some politicians rationalize lying to try and buy time for their policies to work. They sincerely believe that given enough time, their policies will be effective, but that the news cycle won’t give them the necessary breathing room and time to work.
There actually may be some truth to this.
Evaluating all the impacts of a major policy change takes time and can often be very complicated with many ramifications to consider. The messaging required to support complex changes does not lend itself well to a campaign bumper sticker or 5 second TV commercial. Unfortunately too many of us that vote get our opinions about candidates and their polices from these sources, or if we don’t know who to vote for we simply pick the letter we feel most comfortable with (D or R) and call it a day when we reach the ballot box.
Politicians and their campaign advisors understand this mentality. They build their campaigns around assuming a certain number of voters will pick their candidates in a given area based on the letter next to their name. They then focus on emotional advertising to inspire their often strategically chosen Lettered folks to the polls, and to sway any of the Unlettered folks (Independents and Undecideds) in the middle.
Sadly, I don’t think this comes as a surprise to any of my readers.
We accept this as “just the way it is.”
As long as we place a high value on simply voting, and no value on informed voting, we should expect our politicians to lie to us. It would be easy to blame our pols and their polls as the root of the political corruption in our society. We could go on about our business, free from any responsibility or guilt, smugly content with our moral purity, and promptly proceed to ignore how our laziness towards our civic duties has contributed to this environment in which the least honest and most attractively marketed politicians thrive.
I would like you to try an experiment the next time you go to the polls. Rather than simply voting for someone with a letter you like, or against a letter you don’t like, don’t vote at all if you don’t know anything about any of the candidates. Try to inform yourself on what folks actually stand for, what their histories have been, and how you feel they will represent you. Get a little more involved in the process. I often hear complaints about how low our voter turn-out is in this country. Maybe when that occurs that’s actually a good thing? Maybe those are the folks that have taken the time to get informed and feel motivated to participate in the process without hand-holding or special prompting?
Many campaigns believe all they have to do is “mobilize their base” and they will win without any substantive policy commitments, without having to answer any question about their records, and without having to demonstrate any knowledge of the office they intend to hold. I see Democrats and Republicans both engaging in these types of campaigns, by throwing around “red meat” issues and taking uncompromising but also impossible stands on various issues to spur their core voters to show up at the polls. What gets lost in all that noise is any substantive policy debate or campaign promises that can be kept or that are good for all the people. What also seems to be lost is that politicians and elected officials are not supposed to just server the victors in our winner-takes-all contests that most elections have become, but all the people.
Just because people did not vote for you, that does not make them your enemies.
But it certainly feels that way though, doesn’t it?
Is it any wonder the public is so dissatisfied with Congress in general, or politicians as a whole? Winners make promises they can’t hope to keep to get elected, and they if they somehow manage to make good on their promises they often further alienate half the population. Rather than working for the country to make it better, Democrats and Republicans, Reds and Blues, Donkeys and Elephants, Conservatives and Liberals, have become rival teams in an unending power struggle and contest that no one ever really wins, a game with infinite overtimes. To me it feels like these teams pass the trophy (us) back and forth. We are just a means to an end to them and once they get what they need from us every 2, 4 or 6 years they return to their old habits and the old game where winning is more important than what is being won, or who is hurt in the process.
I recently realized this is a bigger problem than faux education reform, but directly related. Politics in the United States has become a two person game that never ends. All of us are players whether we want to be or not. Multinational Corporations, Education Reformers and Bankers realized this a long time ago (which is why these are also often the same players.) To ensure they are always winners they give to both sides so that no matter who wins an election, they are the only true winners. I don’t believe this situation is healthy or can possibly end well. More and more our “two” political parties have actually come to agree on more than they disagree when it comes to setting national policy. This has resulted in enormous budget deficits and debts (both sides like to spend more than they take in revenue.) Both sides enjoyed watching the economic expansion fueled by subprime mortgages, and blame each other for the collapse. (Incidentally they were both right.) Both sides have wastefully employed our US military as a police force for the world while allowing our healthcare systems for veterans the veterans of these conflicts to decay. Both sides have given the banking sector a get out of jail and/or bankruptcy free cards. Bankers have not been punished for defrauding the US and the world of trillions of dollars, but both sides have fueled a prison system and militarized police forces that would be the envy of totalitarian states like China and Iran and which incarcerates victimless offenders for life for minor drug offences.
For this reason I have decided I cannot run for elective office as a Democrat or Republican. However, for the first time in my life I have registered for a political party – which generally goes against my principles of trying to remain impartial and my general distrust of political parties.
- I made an exception because even though I told people I was running as an Independent or No Party candidate, many folks thought I was (or accused me of being) an Occupy Democrat or a Tea-Party Republican.
- I made an exception because I wanted a chance to define myself, rather than let other people define me.
- I made an exception because I think the Libertarian ideals of limited local government and government interference are important, less corruptible and more efficient and in line with what most people believe in but have not been able to find.
- I made an exception because I don’t want to tell people what to do and I don’t want to appear biased to one side or the other.
- I made and exception because I want to be seen as someone who really want to provide accurate information that people can use to form their own judgments.
- But mostly, I made this decision because I believe someone has to.
Democrats and Republicans are not my enemy, any more than they should be the enemies of each other. We are all countrymen, all Americans, and we all want the best for ourselves, our children and our country. However without breathing room between elections, without honest oversight from mainstream media – which is often owned by corporations wishing to influence public opinion one way or the other – I feel we desperately lack impartial oversight.
At a time when most laws by our elected and appointed judges are now decided along partisan lines, and when the public expects this, I know that we have taken partisanship too far. Justice is no longer blind, but it has been lamed and corrupted. When we expect our judges to vote for things based on who appointed them (or what letter is next to their name) rather than what the law says, don’t you think we enable and encourage this mockery of Democracy and justice to continue?
I think I get along pretty well with both Tea-Party groups and Occupy Wall Street groups. These movements are part of a growing dissatisfaction with the current dysfunctional and animus infused status quo. If you identify with one of these groups, there may be a reason you feel like tolerated outsiders in the Republican and Democrat parties but get along with me.
Maybe your ideas are too complex for the two generally accepted checkboxes?
Maybe it’s time you took your political business elsewhere?
I’m not saying you need to become a Libertarian like I have, but it might be a good place to start looking. I think you owe yourself, your children, and your country at least that much. It’s your choice if you want to continue choosing between 2 bad choices.
Thanks for listening,