“Just supposing our national government . . . had fallen into the hands of men loyal to an alien power, then would the people yank the usurpers out of office at once?”

*

In 2007 we asked, “Is the U.S. an Occupied Nation?” With the country exhausted by war and the Gulf Coast still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, Bush-Cheney and other Conservatives in High Places regularly showed such indifference, at best, to the well-being of ordinary Americans that it really felt as though the government had been abducted.

Now, with America pushed to the brink of an abyss by an extremist few of those same so-called conservatives—the very ones who drove up the debt in the first place—is it possible that the greatest threats to America’s financial, social, and political security have offices in the U.S. Capitol and are paid $174,000 per year, with benefits?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof thinks so, and in “Republicans, Zealots, and Our Security” he makes the case in convincing detail.

If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage. 

Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength—and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer . . . comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. . . . But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way. . . . in their effort to protect the American economy from debt, some of them are willing to drag it over the cliff of default.

(Meanwhile, Huffington Post business editor Peter S. Goodman comes right out and says that the congressional Republicans “are acting like terrorists. . . . willfully and intentionally driving us to the edge of a cliff, using the national interest as a hostage.”)

What is it exactly that these so-called conservatives are conserving?

Nicholas Kristof warns that even the slightest, briefest default could drive interest rates higher—“on mortgages, car loans, business loans and credit cards”—leading to a deeper deficit, purportedly the very thing the House Republicans say they’re determined to reverse. The Congressional Budget Office projects that a 1% rise in interest rates could add more than $1 trillion to borrowing costs over the next 10 years.

Republican zeal to lower debts could result in increased interest expenses and higher debts. Their mania to save taxpayers could cost taxpayers. That suggests not governance so much as fanaticism.

Reading Is Fundamental; Ignorance Is Not Strength

The radicals’ threat to the nation’s solvency is not the only danger they pose. Kristof shows how “overzealous budget cuts” to education at the local, state, and national levels—including major literacy programs—have put the nation’s future at risk.

Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro—whom this blog applauds for her staunch support of the National Infrastructure Bank bill—says the cuts to literacy programs are part of “a broader assault on education programs.”

She notes that Republicans want to cut everything from early childhood programs to Pell grants for college students. Republican proposals have singled out some 43 education programs for elimination, but it’s not seen as equally essential to end tax loopholes on hedge fund managers.

In his June 29 press conference, President Obama pointed to the tax breaks for corporate jet owners as an example of a tax exemption the Republicans ought to be able to let lapse “before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children’s education . . .” This tax break alone takes about $3 billion per year from the Treasury. By contrast, Reading Is Fundamental, which helps some 4 million low-income children with the help of some 400,000 volunteers (that’s a strong show of support), is a public-private partnership that only costs the federal government about $25 million per year.

What’s Good for Education Is Good for Democracy

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”Thomas Jefferson

One last point about defunding education is that it causes democracy to wither: students who learn history are more likely to be informed about the present as well as the past, and are more likely to vote, get involved, serve in public life, run for office, etc. As adults they are more likely to resist attempts to limit citizens’ right to vote. Where there’s adequate funding for nonathletic extracurricular activities such as drama, music, school newspapers, speech and debate, foreign language clubs, and so on—which once were commonplace but now often are found only in private schools or in well-to-do neighborhoods—children thrive and want to go to school. And when they graduate they are more likely to be active, involved citizens. What’s good for education is good for democracy. Do not believe Big Brother’s slogan IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Ignorance breeds passivity, apathy, sullen resentment. Ignorance is strength only for a political party that operates best behind closed doors.

*