The current reality of both the 2020 presidential campaigns and the South Dakota General Assembly mean an awful lot of politicking is going on just now.
When I was a younger man, I reveled in politics, reading the coverage of such in newspapers and magazines from cover to cover, staying up late every election night to hear the returns, and keeping current with federal legislation as it wound its way through that Byzantine process. I even worked, briefly, in a congressional office in D.C. while attending school in our nation’s capital.
My interest, for whatever reason, has cooled since then and I usually find myself most engaged when political ideologies are pulled into the discussion. There was a time, again when I was a younger man, that I thought taking a political stance was simple. Identify your philosophy and apply it to situations as they arise. Do you believe the country is fundamentally a republic or a democracy? Does our constitution limit government in meaningful ways? The answers to such will lead to your positions on any issue.
But then I noticed people, politicians usually, stray far and wide from what they said they believed. This smelled of hypocrisy or the foulest sort of political gamesmanship, ala the mayor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, so wonderfully played by Charles Durning. My younger self seethed with self-righteous indignation at such disingenuousness. Why can’t people stand by their principles?
With the years, though, I’ve noticed that sometimes there are good reasons for such, including occasions when two principles conflict. For example, Gov. Noem, a strong advocate for local control, has now proposed legislation streamlining processes for approval of economic development — including such things as animal confinements and wind farms — effectively removing or minimizing the role of local governmental agencies such as county boards.
But this is not hypocrisy, but rather the embrace of another of the governor’s principles — pro-business/pro-economic development. If local processes are blocking, even unintentionally, new development in South Dakota, then perhaps it is time for a different level of review, one that investors can rely upon and understand more clearly.
Meanwhile, pro-business local officials are suddenly embracing local control. Well, not “suddenly” really, because they’ve always held both positions. With the two principles in conflict, they are forced to choose one or the other. This is not hypocrisy but the conflict of two strongly held beliefs, along the lines of the wrestling match within the believer who wants to go to Heaven but doesn’t want to die.
We face similar problems in education. I lament the fact that the federal government, providing something like 7% of K-12 funding in this country, controls far more than this through legislation and court rulings. States could do a better job with more unfettered control. Additionally, local school districts are better suited to making decisions for their schools and communities than the state. I believe, in other words, in local control.
Except when I don’t. In a couple of states, school taxes are actually voted upon in local elections. In South Dakota, the state sets a finance formula, spelling out what resources are available to schools, and setting taxes. I’m all for the South Dakota system. I can’t imagine having to have regular elections on tax levies, even though doing so would actually enhance local control.
Another of my “education”’ beliefs is that schools should not be encumbered with societal goals beyond educating kids. Any extra tasks added to our plate mean reduced focus and attention available for student achievement. Every conceivable interest group works to get into the schools because of the access we have to young people. And many of their goals — registering voters, accessing blood donors, etc. — are positive and important.
But allow too many such and you wind up with a social service agency with some school work on the side. Still, I love the fact that schools (outstanding in the case of Mitchell) offer school meal programs, breakfast, lunch and even the weekend Snack Pack program. Feeding the hungry is just too important to not facilitate through schools.
The absurd lengths to which a belief in restricting schools to education was on display recently in Pierre with the introduction of a bill to disengage school attendance from vaccination requirements. Starting with Jenner’s smallpox vaccinations and extending all the way to chicken pox shots, vaccinations have saved literally hundreds of millions of lives over the last two-plus centuries. Coming up with an exact figure is impossible, in part because vaccination requirements provide a herd immunity, as well as an individual one, which extends the life-saving protection far beyond the one who rolled up their sleeve and winced.
I love the fact that my profession and my schools have such an integral part in the stellar health conditions, historically, in which we thrive. Disengaging schools from vaccination requirements would fulfill my view of schools as exclusively for education but at the cost of the health of the children and communities we serve.
Even for philosophical consistency, that is too high a price.