Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Dreadful Speech

That was, in my humble opinion, a perfectly dreadful speech you gave on the economy yesterday in Chicago, Bush. I’m no economic genius myself, but even I could see that your arguments—aside from my fundamental disagreement with them--were full of holes, non-sequiturs, and contradictions. I’m sure there will be plenty of commentary on that part of the content. (I hope Paul Krugman will be back from vacation in time to tear the speech apart in his Monday New York Times column,) But the language, Bush! I mean, I understand that you yourself don’t lay claim to a basic command of English; it even seems to be a source of pride to you, given that you’re always making unfunny jokes about it at your own expense. But surely you could hire speechwriters who might do better than this?

I mean, it’s so simple-minded, isn’t it? Take a look at this, for example:

This country has a moral and an economic obligation -- a moral and an economic interest in seeing that our people have the skills they need to succeed in a competitive world. You see, if we don't make sure our people have the skills they need in a competitive world, the jobs are going to go somewhere else. And that's what we've got to understand.

You talk to your audience—and, courtesy of the media, to the rest of us--as though the American people were a bunch of morons. Come to think of it… Well, let’s leave that one lie, Bush. You continue:

Making sure that people have got a good basis of education and capacity to fill the jobs which will actually exist really -- it's important, particularly given the fact that our economy is one that is so dynamic and so vibrant that people are changing jobs all the time. Do you realize that if the recent pattern continues, the typical American worker will have held at least 10 jobs between the ages of 18 and 38? This job market of ours is churning. It's creating opportunity. We've got to have the skills to be able to fill these new jobs. And that's the challenge ahead of us.

And that seems like a virtue of the economy to you? I mean, you yourself might have had that many jobs, Bush, but you’ve never known what financial insecurity means, or the damage it can do to a person’s psyche. Most of the rest of us would be quite content with one or two jobs at that time in our life, with decent pay and benefits. To have had “at least 10 jobs between the ages of 18 and 38” hardly speaks of job security and economic well-being. To me, it sounds more like desperation. I know so many young people, well-educated, smart, and willing, who are forced to take jobs that they know will lead them nowhere and bring in ten or fifteen dollars an hour. No medical benefits. No retirement. And often part-time, with no prospect of full-time employment. Is this what you call a “job”? No wonder they have to move on to the next one—and it’s usually not much different.

And then you dwelled at length on education:

We came together in Congress -- with the Congress and passed what's called the No Child Left Behind Act. I'd like to remind you about the spirit and the philosophy behind that act. It basically says, let's raise the standards and let's measure. And the reason the federal government has got a right to call for measurements is because we spend a fair amount of money from Washington, D.C. at the local level. And so we simply said, if you're taking our money -- it's actually your money -- (laughter) -- do you mind showing us whether or not the children can read or write? I don't think that's too much to ask, is it? Unless you believe that certain kids can't learn to read and write.

I remember when I was the governor of Texas, I found some school systems that simply, I guess, didn't believe that certain kids could read and write, so they just shuffled them through. They said, it's much easier than taking on the tough task of analyzing and correcting, so let's just quit. Let's just say, okay, we'll just kind of socially promote you. It makes us look good on paper. But it's not treating American families well. And it's not setting that foundation to make sure our children can get the job skills necessary to fill the jobs of -- or the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century.

We just talked about “the jobs of the 21st century”, Bush. Then there’s more semi-literate waffle before you close:

There is an achievement gap in America that is inexcusable and it's beginning to close. And I think one of the main reasons it's closing is because we are now measuring. We're posting scores on the Internet for people to see, and we're saying to school districts, if you've got a problem, correct it early before it is too late. And if you can't figure out how to correct it, give parents a different option than keeping their child in a school which will not change and will not teach. (Applause.)

So for you, it’s all about “standards” and “measuring” and “testing”. Meaningless gestures, as I see it, Bush, while poverty, hopelessness and de facto racism persist in vast sections of our urban communities, and so long as we lack the will to address these intractable social conditions. And of course, unless the money is also there to improve classroom conditions, teacher qualification and remuneration.

Sometimes what you say is barely understandable. Take this, gem, for example:

One of the real assets in our country is the community college system. I spent a lot of time going to the community college system...

“going to”? Bush. What does that mean?)

because, as I tell people, they're available, they're affordable, and unlike some institutions of higher education…

(I guess that’s a dig at our “liberal” institutes of higher learning and their pointy-headed intellectual faculty!)

…they know how to change their curriculum to meet the needs of society.
In other words, what's interesting about the community college experience is that if you're living in an area where there's a need for health care workers, and you got a chancellor of the community college system that is any good, that person will devise a program with the local health care providers that will help train nurses, or whatever is needed. I mean the health care -- the community college system is a fabulous job training opportunity for the American people. It's a place to find -- to match people's desire to work with the jobs that actually exist.

I suppose you mean that the less privileged should get themselves to trade school rather than to college. While there’s an obvious—but unspoken--class discomfort about the relationship between these two models of education, let’s not obfuscate the issue with specious rhetoric. Let’s address it honestly.

It’s this kind of speech that drives me to despair. I want a President who has a firm and honest grasp of the issues, and who’s willing to address them forthrightly, without nods and winks to his ideological political support base, and an eye to his party’s continuance in power. I regret to have to tell you, Bush, that I added my signature (and an eloquent letter!) supporting a national move to have you and your Cheney impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” I think the petition was referring to your lies that led us into war, and your taking the law once too often into your own hands in the matter of spying on American citizens. But maybe your cavalier and merciless torture of the English language, too, should be considered amongst those crimes and misdemeanors.

1 comment:

PK said...

AAAh, the president. And he's all ours. Aren't we proud.