|Public Lip Service
4 Sept. 1999
"We need more public service, better schools, gun control, etc." Everyday, someone steps up with a solution to one of many problems that ail our society. Today they are proposing a solution to our crumbling schools; tomorrow they will announce that they have a solution to violence in our society. What troubles me is the idea that concept that these proposals are couched in warm and soothing euphemisms, but in reality snakes are laying in wait. Politicians wrap their agendas in favorable ideals to ease them down the citizens' throats. These white lies look pleasing at first, but they may contribute to the distrust that many people have in our government.
A good example is the agenda of the Republican Party in Congress this year. On the surface, they claim to be proponents of effecting positive change. Once this veneer is removed, members of the GOP seem to be hypocritical in their actions.
The republican members of this year's Congress seem to be particularly adept at this double talk. All for the interest of the America they have impeached the President, proposed censorship laws, partially approved a violation of the separation of church and state (Ten Commandments) and partially approved a constitutional amendment to limit free speech (flag desecration). All of their actions run contrary to the ideals they claim to profess.
The disturbing part is that many republicans don't publicly seem to understand this discrepancy. Two weeks ago, the republicans used their weekly radio address to defend their tax cut plan as "solid republican thinking." It would be funny if they weren't serious. Look at their record for the past year and anyone would be hard pressed to call the republicans' actions as "solid". The republicans seem to be very good at transmorgrifing the grimy truth in an American principle.
This veil of realty permeates through everything. It could be used to explain any number of government cover-ups such as Iran-Contra and Waco. It can explain why everyone in Congress desperately wants campaign-finance reform but won't do anything about it. Americanism helps Senator Orrin Hatch defend his holding up judicial nominees for the federal courts. The policy of "don't ask, don't tell" in the armed forces falls into this category.
The people that place propositions on the California ballot seem to have grown particularly adept at this slight of hand. Recent proposals to reject services to illegal immigrants, disband affirmative action and eliminate bilingual education have all been embedded in American ideals. Sometimes the advertising is so vague that one has absolutely no idea what the measure proposes.
School vouchers seem to be another popular area for the truth to be obscured ever-so-slightly. Proponents of vouchers claim that our public schools aren't salvageable and thus desire people to use tax monies to fund a private religious education. The proponents talk in glowing words, but the hidden truth is that vouchers will harm our weakened public schools. Millions will remain in rapidly crumbling public schools while only a privileged few are allowed to flee to private schools. Is this a democratic solution allowing all citizens to have access to an adequate education?
Of course, these deceptions are not entirely intentional. This year, California Governor Gray Davis proposed instituting mandatory public service for all levels of higher education from the University of California to California State University to the community colleges. For the longest time, I had a problem with this proposal. It isn't because I'm against public service, far from it. I realized my main objection was the idea was embedded in the governor's stated hope to instill World War II-era patriotism in today's students.
The truth is that America has never been a truly open society. Recalling the myth that everyone in America was happy and prosperous 50 years ago is a fantasy that both republicans and democrats seem willing to manifest.
I think that forcing people to perform community service is going to build and compound any resentment that youths might have. Certainly, the administration and community leaders should encourage others to serve the community (witness Marshall College at UCSD, where public service is an optional graduation requirement and teacher education is one of the fastest growing campus programs). Students should willingly serve the community because public service benefits everyone. Coercion seems to detract from the ideal of public service.
To be fair, many Americans that support these controversial issues may dispute with some of my criticisms regarding the state of affairs. I am not only expressing indignation at these proposals, I am concerned at how they deceptively misled the public.
If you asked a citizen about the actions of the representatives in power, they would most likely shrug their shoulders and go about their business. By murmuring soothing words, politicians seem to ease the citizenry into a gentle slumber. This chicanery has had its effect on the youngest voters. In the 1998 general election, only 18 percent of eligible persons age 18-24 voted.
The time to slumber is over. Although we have never had a time to be complacent, issues are going be discussed in the next few years that will have a watershed impact on the state of the union 20-30 years from now. We are in a cycle of prosperity, we have time to prepare for the fall and winter seasons of the economy that lie ahead.
One commentator on CNN said that if everyone voted, congresspeople would not dare to bow to special interests. Instead of merely paying lip service to the ideals of America, representatives in our government must uphold their truths that our Founders found to be self-evident. Now is the time to act and ensure that the actions of the government are truly those of the citizenry and not those of special interests or corporations.
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