Intolerance on the left and the Common Core

I try to avoid reading Paul Krugman’s columns because they almost always make me angry, and anger is not something I particularly enjoy. Yet I couldn’t help myself this morning, and the experience proved my point. In discussing the decision of many red states to decline Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, he writes that “it appears to be motivated by pure spite.” He goes on to quote one of the “architects” of the law: “The Medicaid-rejection states ‘are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.’”

Then read Charles Krauthammer’s column about the summary execution of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich for holding a position on gay marriage, six years ago, that a majority of Californians also held, as did a certain candidate for president (ahem, Barack Obama). “What’s at play,” writes Krauthammer, “is sheer ideological prejudice—and the enforcement of the new totalitarian norm that declares, unilaterally, certain issues to be closed.” And it’s not just about gay marriage; there is similar close-mindedness about global warming and contraception, Krauthammer writes.

What’s fascinating is that, not so long ago, it was conservatives who were famous for their “moral clarity” while liberals prided themselves in their “nuance.” But where’s the nuance in Paul Krugman’s views? Isn’t it possible that the states rejected Medicaid because they knew that a few years from now they’d be on the hook for picking up the coverage of the new enrollees? And because Medicaid is already crowding out scarce dollars for other public services like K–12 education? Perhaps these states believe that other mechanisms might work better for covering the working poor? No, they must simply be evil and spiteful.

“There’s a startling ugliness of spirit abroad in modern America,” warns Paul Krugman. No, Professor Krugman, the ugliness of spirit appears to lurk inside your heart. Most of us understand that the overwhelming majority of Americans are kind in spirit, generous with their concerns for their fellow man, interested in helping the poor, and saddened by our seeming inability to make things better for so many of our neighbors.

Yes, there are sharp ideological divides about how to improve life for the neediest Americans—the role of the market and private-sector jobs versus the role of the government; the benefits of direct public services versus the risk of dependence; the upsides of “scale” and uniformity versus the downsides of distant, centralized control. No one has a monopoly on the “correct” answers to these perplexing questions. And people who disagree with your views are not, by definition, evil or spiteful.

Now a word about education: Common Core is another one of those issues (like almost all issues) where there is no obvious right or wrong answer. I strongly believe that the standards will benefit America’s schoolchildren and led to positive changes in the classroom. I’m certainly frustrated by some of the opponents who seem determined to tear it down without much thought about what might replace it. I understand that some people and groups in this fight are motivated by issues adjacent to education—their anger at the president or their desire to build a grassroots political organization.

Still, I will not join in with those on the left who see Common Core opponents as stupid, or spiteful, or uncaring. There are legitimate reasons to worry about the balance between interstate standards and local control, between the innovation-encouraging aspects of commonality and the innovation-crushing aspects of conformity. To come down on the anti–Common Core side of these questions may make people libertarian. But it doesn’t make people evil—and so it is with the other big debates in our politics today.

More By Author

Related Articles