OP-EDS

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February 24, 2004

No Child Left Behind Act splits Bush allies

Conservatives, it seems, are suffering from a bad case of buyer's remorse. They are finally beginning to understand what the rest of this country has long known: the Bush administration's domestic agenda is a rudderless ship whose captain is either incredibly disconnected from reality or consciously misrepresenting reality. We can all agree that this administration has made a mighty mess of things, but conservatives have a special axe to grind over a domestic agenda that has failed them in every regard.

If the Cato Institute is any measure of the libertarian mainstream, one can safely conclude that there is great discontent among our utopian friends, going all the way back to the Patriot Act. "Too many conservatives," writes Cato's Timothy Lynch, "have brushed aside grievances about civil liberties violations in the mistaken belief that President Bush's political opponents are simply trying to dress up a partisan attack in noble-sounding rhetoric about liberty, privacy, and the Constitution. The opposite is true." If they are not stopped, Lynch warns, the president and attorney general will continue to move toward a "police state."

And since Karl Rove promised presidential support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, the on-again Christian Coalition has waited for the other shoe to drop—but not without expressing displeasure that it's taken the president, a man of the faith, so long to make his decision. But of course the Christian right—not to be confused with Al Sharpton's "right Christians"—will come around once the president supports a ban on gay marriage. But I'm not so sure the same can be said of right-wing detractors of the president's "Economic Stimulus Plan" or "Job Creation Plan." No matter what they call it, the move to make tax cuts permanent has spawned a backlash. The Hill is reporting that key congressional Republicans—Charles Grassley, Olympia Snowe, George Voinovich, and Craig Thomas—are furtively planning a revision of the proposed tax code.

The quiet character of this plan to back away from the president's "no-tax and spend policies" is quite different from congressional Republicans' rather shrill tone toward "immigration reform." The Los Angeles Times reports that at a February 22 California GOP event, the immigration plan was the impetus for "hundreds" of Republicans to boo the president and the Governator, repeating the slogan, "enough is enough!" U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican from Vista, warned that the plan would directly "empower Al Qaeda." Others wore tasteful shirts that said, "No Way Jose," or warned that Main Street was becoming Tijuana.

Yet no issue has divided the President and his supposed allies as much as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The simple fact of the matter is that the President's proposed funding for education, and for NCLB, is the lowest in some time—a fact that the White House's budget attempted to obscure with its renewed war on math. Where the average yearly increase in education spending since 1997 is about $4 billion, the White House has proposed a real increase of $26 million, amounting to a net 12.7 percent decrease in funding. Normally this sort of compassion would make conservatives beam, since it slashes federal education funding to states to about $100 million. Yet the cost of NCLB for each state is close to $1 billion, thereby demanding some way for states to generate $900 million dollars of revenue devoted solely to education.

In response, the red states of New Hampshire, Virginia, and Arizona have introduced legislation to exempt themselves from NCLB. According to the Associated Press, a concerned White House called "a full-court press" and dispatched education officials to repeat the lie that the federal government is funding. How has the sales pitch gone? The New York Times reports this reaction of House Education Committee Chair James Dillard (R-VA) after a meeting with Secretary of Education Rod Paige: "He looked us in the eye and said, ‘It's fully funded.' We looked him back in the eye and said, ‘We don't think so.'…We got platitudes and stonewalls, but no corrective action." So fierce has the opposition been that another education official claimed that he had been sent to "places where I wondered whether I'd get out of there with my skin intact." One such place was Utah, where Republican state and federal officials (I don't think there are many democrats in Utah) have countered NCLB with the rhetoric of state's rights and the doctrine of nullification. Indeed, the state legislature is presently touching up a resolution that would authorize the state not to comply with any measure of NCLB that is not federally funded.

Conservatives of all stripes are slowly recognizing that Bush is not one of their own. The First Lady recently lamented that Democrats have tried to "divert attention from how successful my husband, and our country, has actually been." The President may want to clean up the mess in his own house and in his own party before worrying about the Democrats. Otherwise it is just a matter of time before some ideologue, likely a Grover Norquist type, comes along claiming to be the true, authentic voice of conservatism. We liberals found out about this the hard way three years ago, when the lesson was named Ralph Nader.