Education should trump terror every time

On “Face The Nation” recently, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of forces in Afghanistan, was asked what he considers the greatest threat to America’s security. “In the near term,” he said, “it’s our economic challenges…. In the long term,” he declared, “it’s education, because that’s our future.” Interesting, huh? Terrorism didn’t even make the list.

In focusing single-mindlessly on cutting non-military spending to solve our budget problems, rejecting any meaningful increase in revenue, today’s Congressional Republicans are disregarding the future, while claiming fiscal responsibility. Even the general, presumably not a liberal, knows they have things upside down and backwards. It’s a con game, enriching themselves and their benefactors with one hand, distracting us from its impact with the other.

In surgery training, one of my favorite teachers liked to tell us to “focus on the doughnut, not on the hole.” Whatever it meant, it sure sounded sensible; especially at three in the morning. With tunnel vision, today’s Congressional Republicans focus only on holes.

One of which is pretending that terrorism is our biggest threat. It’s become, among other things, a justification for tossing the Constitution out the window. George Bush started it and, sadly, Barack Obama has continued much of it. Since there’ll never be an end to terrorism, calling our response a “war” excuses manifold permanent transgressions, not the least of which is continuing to rack up deficits, buying weapon systems not even the Pentagon wants. (It’s a federal jobs program Republicans can support!) Despite expending more on our military than the next thirteen countries combined, Republicans would spend even more, while demanding budgetary balance with no new revenue. Every credible analysis says the same thing: it’s impossible without critically reducing spending on everything else, starting with education, but far from ending there. Everything a functioning society needs, left behind like doughnut crumbs.

I’m starting to think the destructive results of such budgetary shortsightedness aren’t accidental. Together with voter suppression laws and gerrymandering, Republicans have managed to maintain their hold on the House, despite receiving more than a million and a half fewer votes nationally than Democrats did. To keep voters from recognizing what they’re up to, could the degradation of education be part of their game? When your plans run counter to the needs of all but the most favored few, endumbing voters seems a good way to pull them off.

Okay, it’s only a theory. Like evolution.

How I wish old-school Republicans and real conservatives, who actually have in their hearts the best interests of our country, would retake their party from those whose narrow self-interest is their only interest. “We want our country back,” says the Tea Party. Good. Now maybe it’s time to rethink from whom it needs taking: those who consider education a priority, who believe the way to minimize future entitlement costs is to help the next generation escape poverty, who are willing to spend money now to save it in the future; or from those whose only purpose seems to be protection of those whose future is already secure, at the expense of the future of everyone else. For the vast majority of us, the choice seems pretty obvious. And yet, fully Foxified, people vote against themselves, convinced they’re doing the opposite. It’s puzzling.

Unrecognized by most people, the deficit has been decreasing rapidly, and was projected to fall steadily for the next several years, even before sequestration happened. Which is not to say it’s solved. But in fixing it we simply can’t ignore our long-term needs: education, the environment, health care, infrastructure. Dismissive of such frivolities, today’s Congressional Republicans just say no. But surely there’s a rational way to tackle debt that doesn’t amount to slow suicide. Surely there are Republicans who understand the need to think outside their own doors.

Having grown up with thoughtful Republicans in my family and among my family’s friends, my hope is that those who still exist (I take it on faith that they do) will speak up while there’s still time, helping their party to regain a toehold on terra firma. I know the worst Republican in Washington State is better than the best in, say, Texas or Georgia. Those states, it’s clear, will keep electing crazy and regressive troglodytes like Ted Cruz and Paul Broun, no matter what. All the more reason for sane conservatives to be heard, rather than drowned in overheated and under-steeped tea.

Sid Schwab lives in Everett. Send emails to

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