Members of the National Rifle Association criticized Lord Michael Bloomberg at their annual conference in St. Louis this past Friday. Bloomberg has been outspoken in his support of gun control. While I have little sympathy with the NRA, their criticisms put a finger on something important:
“I think Mayor Bloomberg is the epitome of the nanny state, of the elite executives that want to control everything and control people’s lives,” he (an NRA member) said.
A statement Bloomberg made in February illustrates the arrogant and out of touch way he handles sensitive issues:
“The NRA’s leaders weren’t even interested in public safety,” Bloomberg told The News this week. “They were interested in promoting a culture where people take the law into their own hands and face no consequences for it.”
That is a thick and curious statement. To be sure, “Stand your ground” laws are reprehensible. However, I think the goal of the NRA leaders is to prop up the weapons industry. Saying that they want to promote “a culture where people take the law into their own hands and face no consequences for it” falls short of the mark. The talk about “consequences” feeds into criticisms about Bloomberg’s association with the “nanny state”. He is all about using his power to hold people “accountable” for doing things and making choices with which he does not agree.
The states that have Stand your Ground laws are, by and large, those with a healthy streak of mistrust for the state. In a perverted way, the voters who support these laws do have a concern with public safety. They do not trust the government’s ability to protect them from crime, so they will protect themselves. That is not to say lawmakers and lobbyists believe it. Their goal is to keep guns rolling out of factories. They have clad these Stand your Ground laws in a cloak of rugged individualism as a way to sell them to voters.
Gun enthusiasts are fond of quoting the second amendment, not to mention isolated passages from Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers. The belief is that the Second Amendment allows people to bear arms as a way to protect against the tyranny of the state. Indeed, when you couple Bloomberg’s support for gun control with his support for stop and frisk and his statements about the NYPD being his own personal army, it would seem the gun enthusiasts are onto something.
But it is pretty clear that the second amendment was a way to preclude the need for standing armies. The Founders saw standing armies as tools of monarchal tyranny. Having citizen-soldiers in the tradition of Greek hoplites was seen as the proper way for a republic to defend itself. It seems this is what the Founders meant when they portrayed the citizens’ right to bear arms as a defense against the tyranny of government.
The fact is that, in 2012, we do have a standing army. We also have militarized police forces like the NYPD. No matter how many automatic weapons the populace owns, it will not prevent an organized and well-armed military force from having their way if the time comes.
The fact of the matter is, the government does not need to impose martial law or send tanks down Main Street to oppress us. They are doing a good enough job of that through legislation, executive orders and Supreme Court rulings. While the state has become more draconian over the past 35 years, they have done so at the behest of the corporate. Through the control of the media, finance, technology and every other facet of human life, corporations have organized society in such a way that martial law becomes unnecessary.
So when members of the NRA talk about Bloomberg’s association with the nanny state, they put their finger on something. His support of gun control, his education policy, his quality of life initiatives all represent an arrogant paternalism. However, it is not the paternalism of the state exclusively. It is the paternalism of corporatized government. It is the idea that people cannot run their own lives and need business to organize life for them. That is what charter schools are all about. That is why Bloomberg stops short of criticizing the role of gun manufacturers in the NRA.
People on the correct side of the education reform debate may have to make some strange alliances. One of those alliances will have to be with the states’ rights part of the electorate. As more states promise to sign on to Obama’s Race to the Top we will see more blowback from people, mostly in the south and west, who oppose it on grounds that it is a gross federal overreach. We have seen this play out in South Carolina’s rejection of RTT.
The common ground between advocates of public education and members of the political right is the belief in community input into public schools. The tragedy of mayoral control in New York City is how far it has taken us from democratic oversight of education policy. Since the 1960s, local communities in NYC have been prevented from having any say in the schools that serve them. The last vestige of democracy was the popularly elected Board of Education. That was done away with when Bloomberg created the Panel for Educational Policy, the majority of whose members vote the way Mayor for Life Bloomberg wants them to.
Race to the Top represents the paternalism of mayoral control writ large. The fact that states have to sign on to the program is a subterfuge. It gives the illusion of respecting the idea of states’ rights and the traditional role state governments have played as leaders of their own education systems. In truth, once a state signs on to RTT they have abdicated all control of education policy to Uncle Arne in Washington. They must open up more charter schools and evaluate teachers based on data-driven nonsense, or else they do not get federal funding.
America’s schools have never been so top-heavy before. Starting with the president but working its way down to governors, mayors and principals, school systems have been given over to increasing centralization. This runs counter to every educational tradition in the United States. These are the points we must make in order to reach across the aisle to those on the political right. We all want to give communities more control over education policy, since each community knows best how to serve their unique student population.
This is an alliance fraught with difficulty. It has the potential to founder on issues of class and race. Libertarian-minded voters might not mind the corporate aspects of education reform and all of the million-dollar contracts it entails. Community control in places like NYC means giving mostly minority communities a say in education policy. However, areas of the south have used the concept of local school control as a way to bar minorities from equal educational opportunities. These are the major fault lines that would develop in an alliance between us and the political rights.
It is still an alliance worth exploring. The movement known as education reform has so much traction because it is bipartisan. Only a bipartisan counter-attack would have a chance of standing up to education reform. There is room for such a counter-attack if we stick to the themes that unite us for now.