Where the Far Left and Far Right Agree

There are three prominent issues in the news in which the far left and hard core Tea Party activists on the Right agree on policy, but for usually very different reasons: Common Core Standards, ‘Obamacare’, and Syria. Only the far left and the far right are speaking out against major policy issues whereas either mainstream America, or the political establishment in DC, take the supportive side.

The Common Core Standards are an attempt to bring ‘rigor’ (as in rigor mortis) and high standards to our public educational system to make our school children ready for the 21st Century global market. Not sure if they mean for them to compete in or to be the products of the 21st Century. Those on the left clearly see the latter. Race to the Top is the driving force behind it. It’s a force with money. It literally has bribed all 50 states with much needed billions of dollars for their schools if they accept CCS and all that goes with it. It is that which has raised the ire of true educators and classroom teachers. The not stated but clearly obvious goals of RttT are busting teachers’ unions, privatizing public education while requiring for-profit charter schools to be included in school budgeting, firing experienced, veteran teachers who know their shit but cost too much in this economy, and replace them with members of the union-busting, part-timers’ organization Teach For America. In a time of global recession, dangling billions in front of CFO’s of school districts and saliva-drooling governors is nothing but bribery. (Not all states took the bite of this poisonous apple.)

Who benefits? Although the Common Core was not written by classroom teachers, the main beneficiaries ought to be the school children. However, delivering to them an untested curriculum removes them from the equation. Big winners are the publishers, notably Pearson, a multi-billion dollars in profits multi-national company that nearly monopolizes testing in America, and other huge corporations. Morna McDermott, an administrator for United Opt Out, created a flow chart exposing the corporate money behind Common Core.

The left is quite uniform in its belief that it is poverty that is a dominant factor in poor education or learning. Even many in the mainstream accept this yet it is given short shrift on the right. Prominent educators like Stephen Krashen and Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Kozol have written extensively on this.

Why does the right wing hate it so much? Their reasons are very similar to the left’s. A dominant concern is that RttT offered money for a program sight unseen (and untested). In their arguments they may pair words like Obama and Socialism, and refer to the ‘infamous’ stimulus package to make their point to an audience willingly accepting these inaccurate characteristics of Obama and judgment of the 1st term economic recovery plan. (It didn’t go far enough and directed at corporations, not citizens.); standards that cannot be changed by the states; the assessment testing will be computerized requiring states to invest in such technology; etc. Investing in technology is usually seen as a good investment but we oppose it when the purpose is to accommodate a testing consortium PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). An anti-Common Core video put out by the Stop Common Core of Georgia produced a very elaborate video on the failings of CC. It’s important, though, to understand that although much of the information is correct, the tenor is definitely a states’ rights, anti-Obama (he’s the Socialist, you know) manifesto.

Something unique has happened this summer that has helped to bring out the pent up anger and energy regarding opposition to the Common Core Standards. Teachers in the summer do 3 things: They find 2nd employment, even within education, they spend quality time with family and friends, and some even prepare for the next school year. Although 10,000 teachers from all over America did attend the first Save Our Schools March in July 2011 and subsequent Occupy the Department of Education the following 2 Aprils, most teachers are either apathetic or inactive regarding education advocacy, especially during the summer. So what explains the explosion of the Facebook page Badass Teachers Association, created by Priscilla Sanstead, Dr. Mark Naison, and Marla Kilfoyle? In just a few weeks its ranks swelled to 10,000 and now, in September, we’re realistically looking forward to 40,000 +. The tide is turning. Most of the postings are expectedly left leaning. However, the Maryland BATS, and other loosely affiliated states’ BATs, seem to be comprised of some right wing extremists who think that there are communists in the Department of Education. Some of these individuals are leading the posts for these pages. Their arguments seem to focus on how schools interpret, or allegedly rewrite, the 2nd amendment as well as the usual states’ rights’ concerns. Many of their postings are also indistinguishable from the left’s, as well, showing common ground.

Mainstream America doesn’t have a clue to what Common Core is. The media plays it up. Dissent is stifled, as a Baltimore County parent was arrested this week for speaking out (out of turn) at a public school board hearing.  School districts throughout America accept it with little question, and, of course, the teachers unions sheepishly go along for the slaughter. After all, they supported Obama and Race to the Top is an Obama initiative.

On domestic issues we see both the real left and the far right opposing Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) but for different reasons. The Republicans hate it because, well, let’s face it. It’s an Obama initiative, he’s a Democrat, and he’s black. No other argument is needed. However, when you look at the different aspects of the ACA, you would think that it was written by industry lobbyists who fund both parties’ electoral coffers. You would be thinking correctly. The biggest winners are the pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, for-profit hospitals and all industries related to health care.

The GOP wants to gut it. They are willing to shut down the federal government to do so. It’s unclear what their reasons are for opposing it, other than cost. It’s based in no small part on Gov. Romney’s insurance reform plan in Massachusetts.

Democrats support it because it was for the first time in decades an attempt to reform the health insurance package so many Americans rely on. The left opposes it because it is just that, a reform of health insurance policies. There was no public option, killed by Dennis Kucinich and not pushed by other notable ‘progressives’ like Bernie Sanders. It is not a single payer system, or Medicare for All, something most of the industrial world has and supported by most Americans. It does not look at health maintenance or prevention but more of dealing with health problems after the fact.

Another reason why the far right and most Republicans oppose it is because of the penalties to small businesses for not covering their employees. Jon Stewart recently pointed out that all employers have to do is reduce their employees’ hours from minimum 30 to a maximum of 29 and call them part time. Starbucks, known for their generous health insurance package for their part timers, kept their hours but simply removed it from their benefits package. It is easier and cheaper to pay the fine than provide health care for their employees. All of labor should be up in arms over this maneuver by such large American companies.

The last issue is the foreign policy issue of war and peace. In the Congress and White House, debates are more often on when to bomb, rather than whether to. We can thank the main stream media for helping them and much of the American public to come to this conclusion. When entire industries rely on war for the benefit of their stock holders, and are main contributors to Congress, it’s very hard to see a movement towards peace. Interestingly, this time around the White House and the leadership of both parties were all but demanding we go to war in Syria. Most Congress members, however, were hearing from their constituents, which was overwhelmingly anti. We don’t know how they would have voted but some have come out openly for military options. For a sense of the depravity of members of Congress, and especially Democrats pretending to be progressive, one can look at non-voting DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. She said, “…that if he gets saved at all, I think it’ll be because, it’ll be because of loyalty of Democrats. They just don’t want to see him shamed and humiliated on the national stage.” Apparently, whether or not innocent civilians get blown apart is not as important as whether the president is shamed or not.

The largest interest group among the Democrats who supported the war against Syria was the African-American population.  Typically more progressive than other Democrats, this group, like Norton and those other Congress members, see loyalty to an individual or party as more important than basic right and wrong. That the war would be illegal plays no role in their calculations. That simply calling for war is a war crime is ignored by all Democrats. Republicans also were quiet on this matter as to do so would indict every past and future Republican president.

The Republican leadership supported the war. As Democratic sycophants didn’t want to ‘shame’ Obama, Republicans didn’t want to shame America’s prestige and standing in the world, as if it were high to begin with. McCain, who is laughably billed as the maverick and even moderate, was not supportive only because it didn’t go far enough. On the far right, we had the libertarian Rand Paul, and surprising Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, who opposed the war. McConnell would likely have endorsed it, as he has for all things military, but his main primary challenger, Tea Party member Matt Bevin, was.

This near-war in Syria showed how the far left and the far right reflected mainstream America on this war. The two war parties’ leadership was strongly supportive of it. In previous wars, like Libya, moderate Americans joined the White House and Congress in supporting it, whereas the fringe stood up against it.

We have seen time and again how the radical extremes have been the only ones opposing truly horrible legislation. Didn’t the left and the right both oppose the fiscal cliff fiasco last year? The left wanted to go over the cliff rather than give an inch to any argument that favored the banking establishment. The tea partiers simply wanted to shut down the government, being the only true anarchists in Washington.

On educational issues, foreign policy, health care and other dominant issues, we see the opportunity to use our respective forces to defeat the worst that capitalism and empire has to offer (not to say there’s good in any of it). The caveat warning is not to let the right dominate and win the arguments based on States’ Rights, Anti-Federalism, Exceptionalism, Isolationism, etc. As it is, the far right and corporatists have the mic. They are in Congress and dominate the media. They support the empire and guarantee corporate control of our lives. Ending Common Core could be a pyrrhic victory if the message of the left does not come out on top.

Myles Hoenig is a veteran of the Prince George's County Public School system in Maryland, USA. He's a long time activist for social justice. He lives in Baltimore. Read other articles by Myles.