The New York Times - Ignorant Times Twelve

Ah, the New York Times.  Once the paper of record, now the paper that has broken all records for idiocy and irrelevance brings us the ruminations of a dozen “Americans who don’t labor in politics or the media” on “what they’d do if they were president.”

Searching for, ” ideas that might challenge or inspire, ” Jesse Kornbluth assembled a group of 12 illuminati and asked them what they would do if they lived in the White House.  The responses, which come from professors, authors, a CEO, a nun, the president of something called the Children’s Zone in Harlem, an artist, an inventor and an astrophysicist, read like a perverse combination of Rainbow Fish and Pedro’s campaign speech from Napolean Dynamite. (Vote for me and your wildest dreams will come true.) 

 One numbskull (a Harvard professor, no less) said he would “lead a campaign against the skyboxification of American life…” It seems the professor thinks that people are too separated from each other.  Rich people, sheltered in their skyboxes, don’t get out and rub elbows with the poor, he says.  “The affluent retreat from public schools, the military, and other public institutions, leaving fewer and fewer class-mixing places.”

 Ah yes, “class-mixing places.” Like Harvard, right?  Two tips for you, professor.  First, the mixing of the races has nothing to do with the presidency.  Second, to borrow from the very embodiment of race (and gender) mixing, Michael Jackson – if you want to make a change, don’t wait to become president.  Start with the man in the mirror.  Step away from your skybox job at Harvard, and spend some time teaching at a community college.  We’ll all benefit from your example. 

 The next suggestion is from a poetess, and it’s worth quoting in its entirety.

I’d grant the very rich the boon of helping them help others, as a form of gratitude for their good fortune. I’d also connect every creative writing program with a hospital, a school, a library, a prison, a neighborhood center — workshops in the supermarkets! (“Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!”)

You’d grant the very rich (according to whose definition?) the boon of helping them help others…  Is there a reeducation camp somewhere in your plan?  So you’d force them to “help others,” right?  Because they don’t already?  Where does Bill Gates’ $10 billion donation to charity (29 January, 2010) fit into your calculations? And you’d connect every creative writing program with a hospital?  Sure, because people in hospitals have nothing better to do than help people learn to write.  As for connecting them with schools – that’s a novel idea and I approve wholeheartedly.  You might want to rethink that part about connecting them to prisons; I see tragedy just over that horizon.  Or were you thinking of just low-security joints, like the ones where you’ll send the very rich who refuse to accept your generous boon?  As for the aisles full of husbands, avocados, tomatoes and whatnot.  I’ll admit it.  I have no idea what you’re talking about.

 The next contributor said, 

 I’d tell the nation that I was powerless to control the war machine, Wall Street, big oil and the other interests that run the country, and I would urge Americans to form a new political party not beholden to them.

I’m not even going to bother with that one.  All I can say is, good luck running on the “powerless” ticket.

 The CEO’s contribution was slightly better.  He at least acknowledged that our economy isn’t a zero-sum game, but then he said he would  “appoint a blue-ribbon committee” to “imagine innovative industries,” which, of course, would be aided by tax code that was supportive of sustainable industries.  How about this; if you’re ever president, just get out of the way.  A free-market economy doesn’t need a blue ribbon committee to come up with innovative industries.  People will do that for themselves if government isn’t intervening in every aspect of their lives, and if they aren’t being punished for their success.  (Take note of that, poetess.) 

 Maybe one of the best responses came from this Pepperdine University professor. 

“With my staff, I would decide what my administration was for…”

Wow.  You need your staff to tell you what you stand for?  And you intend to figure that out AFTER you’re elected?  The article doesn’t mention what he teaches.  I wonder if he knows, or if he’s still trying to figure it out.

The next contributor is all about being a president with “passionate clarity.”  Her presidency would be only one term, and it would feature “a stable and productive economy; an environmentally viable planet; a humane, efficient government capable of educating its young and protecting its vulnerable members.” How can I argue with any of that?  After so many years of presidents who stood against those things, it’s refreshing to see a president in favor of Utopia for a change.  And to think she’ll do all that in one term.  Awesome!  Then we can all have ponies!

This is the part where I’m going to make people mad.  I don’t mean to, but it’s going to happen and I’m powerless to stop it, because I’m going to criticize a nun.  Yes, there are no holds barred here.  Mr. K’s next prospective president is a nun, writing from the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin.  And if what she says is passing itself off as wisdom there, then I hold out little hope for her and her sisters, because if she were president she would,

 “invest half of our defense budget in children, young people and in energy conservation…”

I’m just going to leave it at that, ok?  There’s no sense kicking the sister while she’s down.  And besides, there’s much more fun to be had with the president of the Children’s Zone, who is all about spreading “sacrifice,” updating our “social contract,” and paying our country back.  I’m all for renegotiating the social contract.  In fact, if he’s referring to the New Deal, I think it should be done away with altogether.  What bothers me most about this input is the subtle implication throughout that we owe the government.  Wrong.  Backwards.  Dangerous.  Do away with the notion that we work for the government.  Strip away all the bureaus, departments, and agencies that have accumulated along the nation’s arteries for decades.  Do away with entitlement and the idea that government can distribute largess.  That’s the kind of “sacrifice” we need, but I don’t think that’s what he’s referring to.

The ninth contributor had this to say,

“I would invite all of the members of Congress to join me in an improvisation retreat. We would spend the time practicing saying “yes” to each other and really listening to one another’s offers.”

I’m supposing she is only suggesting practicing saying “yes” now that Congressman Anthony Weiner is out of office.  There’s more, of course, and some of it’s even sillier, but you have better things to do, don’t you? 

 Reading the tenth contribution is probably not among those better things, so let me summarize it for you.  This is from a painter, who’s done some very nice landscapes and portraits, and has won quite a lot of acclaim for his work.  This is good, because he should never be president.  He says that legislators should be required to live outside the US for two weeks.  He doesn’t say why.  Nor does he seem to realize that they do this anyway.  They usually call those “fact-finding” trips, or some such thing, and they always find a way to make taxpayers foot the bill.  I could muster some enthusiasm for his idea if those legislators stayed wherever they went, but otherwise I don’t think it’s a good idea.

 The next-to-last (You’re relieved, aren’t you? ) suggestion comes from the inventor, who says schools should “get rid of binary right and wrong answers,” because, “Experimentation is learning.” Here’s an empirical study to test his theory.   You’re in a cage with a grizzly bear and a rifle.  Would you like to have been taught how to load and fire the rifle, or would you prefer to experiment?  Yes, experimentation is learning, but I would like the guy who works the cash register to understand the binary right and wrongness of making change.  Call me old-fashioned.

 Thankfully, the astrophysicist disagrees with the inventor.  “… objective realities matter,” he tells us.  And I must confess I’m relieved to hear it.  If elected, he tells us, his job would be to “bring an objective reality to the electorate so it could choose the right leaders in the first place.” I’m all for that.  Jefferson (or Franklin, or both of them) is credited with having said that a republic relies on an educated, virtuous population and I agree that, to a large extent, our current situation is due to a voting population whose understanding of our republic seems to be inversely proportional to the number of people eligible to cast ballots.  At least two generations have been raised to think that government can and should provide for them, and we are reaping the fruits of that deception now.

And that brings me to the underlying theme of these 12 statements.  Despite their obvious educations, not a single one of their contributors seems to have a clue about what the role of president is supposed to be.  Not a single person referred to the Constitution, and not a single person mentioned the primary responsibility of the republic’s chief executive, which is, first and foremost to maintain the nation’s security. 

 Our nation’s founders never intended the president to be focused on the daily lives of Americans.  He (or She) was intended, as was the entire federal government, to be focused outwardly.  To represent us among the nations and to keep us secure from depredation.  It was never expected that a President of the United States would concern himself with education, distribution of wealth, or class-mixing.  (Is it just me, or is that not an abhorrent phrase?) None of that is the president’s job, and none of it should be.  Education, the accrual and distribution of wealth, association  – these are the personal concerns of free men and women.  They are the responsibilities of those who are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.  Government that claims these duties for itself is by definition tyranny, something these twelve, Mr. Kornruth, and the New York Times would do well to understand.