Thursday, March 30, 2006

Daily demagoguery

Ah! I love the smell of demagoguery in the morning!

I fell asleep last night watching C-SPAN, and woke up this morning to a House debate over an education bill. The Democrats (no surprise) were taking turns accusing Republicans of "raiding" federal education funding, taking $12 billion which otherwise would have gone to "our children" and instead "giving" that money to greedy corporations.

The secret to this kind of demagoguery is being shifty with pronouns. For instance, there was Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), whose speech involved repetition and variations of the clause, "When we put a college education out of reach of American families …."

Who is "we" in this construction? Congress? Congress doesn't set tuition. If college tuition is rising -- which is what I suppose Rep. McCollum meant by saying that it is "out of reach of American families" -- then who is responsible? College presidents earning six-figure incomes? Tenured faculty who seldom set foot in an undergraduate classroom? Campus employees, including graduate teaching assistants, who form unions and militate for higher wages?

But because Democrats were not talking about Corporate America, but instead were dealing with an enterprise involving a loyal Democratic Party constituency (college faculties), Rep. McCollum was not demonizing those who are most responsible for, and benefit most directly from, rising tuition. College professors and union bosses are among the sainted groups whom Democrats never accuse of "greed."

"When we put a college education out of reach of American families …." Who is this "we"? And what rhetorical function is served by the phrase "American families"? Do American families go to college, the way they go out to eat at Chuck E. Cheese?

No. If "we" are guilty of putting college education out of the reach, we're putting it out of the reach of American teenagers. But Rep. McCollum didn't say so, because everybody knows what American teenagers are like: spoiled, bratty and ingrateful, blowing their parents' money on IPods, Spring Break trips to Mexico, and jewelry for their pierced bellybuttons. Nobody feels sorry for American teenagers, who are not only lazy and arrogant but also listen continuously to that obscene garbage they call "music" nowadays. You're not going to win a lot of votes by trying to tell Americans that those useless teenage slackers, with their braces, baggy jeans and $150 basketball shoes, are pitiful victims.

Therefore, Rep. McCollum does a rhetorical sleight-of-hand and -- voila! -- the victims become "American families." And the perpetrators of this victimization are the ambiguous "we."

What was Rep. McCollum doing with this vague, misleading excuse for an argument? In a word, lying. Because a few minutes after she finished, Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) got up and displayed a chart showing how federal funding for Pell Grants -- which was what the $12 billion fuss was all about -- had increased significantly since Republicans took over Congress in 1995.

Which is a bad thing. If the federal government subsidizes something, the price of that something tends to go up. By pouring money into the Pell Grant program, Republicans are stimulating demand for college education, which would naturally tend to increase tuition -- and thus causing the very "out of reach" phenomenon of which Rep. McCollum complains. If you want to make college more affordable for "American families," eliminate the subsidies.

But Democrats would never propose that, would they?

-- McCAIN

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