23 January 2005
Pee-uuu! Craig stinks up another room
by Craig Cantoni
January 22, 2005
Well, once again I’ve been the skunk at the party. This time, as I will describe momentarily, I made a stink at an education conference hosted by a respected conservative organization that believes in limited government and personal responsibility. Most times, I make a stink at meetings of left-liberals.
By “stink,” I mean asking questions that make audiences angry or uncomfortable, by revealing their intellectual inconsistencies, hypocrisy and self-interest. The only time I’m not a skunk is when I attend gatherings of classical liberals or small “L” libertarians—not because I agree with all of their positions, but because they have the most intellectual consistency and the least hypocrisy and self-interest. And, thankfully, they are very quick to point out when I exhibit intellectual inconsistency, hypocrisy and self-interest—traits that I dislike more in myself than in others.
Anyway, most of the education conference was free of inconsistency, hypocrisy and self-interest. The speakers, panelists and audience spoke about how school choice (vouchers) would improve the academic achievement of American students, especially in math and science, and advance the cause of liberty. They also spoke about the subtle racism of low expectations for minorities in public schools. The positions of the majority of the attendees were not only aligned with the host organization’s mission of limited government and personal responsibility, but also aligned with my own beliefs and values.
I didn’t raise my skunk tail until four hours into the meeting, at the lunch break, which is a rude time to be odoriferous.
The stench was triggered by some of the participants deploring American scores in math and science, and the paucity of students who become engineers and scientists. I responded with comments that I thought were odor-free, but to my surprise, made the others hold their noses and walk away, as if I had emitted a green cloud.
What did I say? I said that incentives matter, which is something that I mistakenly thought would not be controversial with conservatives. I explained that my research shows that the best and brightest American students have been going, in rapidly increasing numbers over the last 35 years, into financial professions and into occupations that are joined at the hip with the regulatory state, such as lawyers, tax accountants and regulatory experts—occupations that don’t require a knowledge of calculus or physics to earn a six-figure income. Why should the best and brightest put on steel-toed shoes and become engineers in factories, I asked, if they can earn more money wearing Gucci loafers while pushing paper in an office, especially if that’s how mom and dad make their money?
Why would that be a malodorous comment? Looking back on it, I believe it was malodorous because the majority of the attendees were lawyers, accountants, regulatory experts, financial professionals and scholars at think tanks. I met only one attendee who was an engineer, which is about how many engineers I meet at other large gatherings of the best, brightest and wealthiest Americans.
It’s somewhat hypocritical for non-engineers and nonscientists to preach about others not going into science and engineering when they haven’t done so themselves or encouraged their kids to do so. And it’s very hypocritical for conservatives to rant about the burgeoning regulatory state and at the same time to earn a six-figure income by being a regulatory expert.
My smelliest remarks came after lunch, in response to the remarks of a speaker and panelist of Puerto Rican ancestry, which she wore on her sleeve, as if she wanted to be judged by her race and not by what she had to say.
The young woman’s initial comments were fine, especially about believing in school choice. But then she said that she headed an activist Hispanic organization that accepts government funding and that teaches Hispanics to pursue their “rights” and “entitlements” under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program.
To put her remarks and my subsequent comments into perspective, NCLB is not only unconstitutional but is also a very expensive program. Among other “rights” and “entitlements,” students can get free tutors if they don’t do well academically. The cost of NCLB is in addition to the $104,000 that it costs to educate a child for 12 years in Arizona. Without NCLB, an immigrant family of four children is already receiving $416,000 in education benefits, which, for some reason, are never classified as welfare, although that’s what it is when people receive more education benefits than they pay in education taxes.
It’s also relevant that I lived in the barrio for five years, was a leader in civil rights in the early 1970s and, unlike many conservatives, including some at the conference, favor immigration. But I don’t believe in coddling or patronizing so-called minorities, because that is a form of the subtle racism of low expectations.
Given that background, let me describe how I stunk up the room. Since the speaker’s remarks about rights and entitlements seemed to be at odds with the host organization’s mission of personal responsibility and limited government, I asked her if she saw a contradiction between saying that she was for choice and advocating for NCLB and its higher taxes and increased regulations.
The audience gasped and held their noses.
She responded with a platitude about choice, to which I responded that other people are not given a choice about their money being taken to fund NCLB for her racial constituency.
The audience grabbed their gas masks.
I believe that my comments were particularly offensive to the white audience, because I had directed them at a minority woman and gone against the subtle racism of low expectations. If the comments had been directed at a white man, the gas masks would have stayed in their bags.
In closing, a piece of advice: Don’t invite skunks to your party if intellectual inconsistency, hypocrisy, self-interest and racial coddling are going to be served.
Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft (www.haalt.org). He can be reached at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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