November 30, 2008
The special interests will always be there
By Bill Kraus
This bit of wisdom was promulgated in a book written by a man named Bentley in 1908. Bentley said in effect if not in fact:
“'The public interest' is a useless concept because there is nothing which is best literally for the whole people.
"Every political force that matters is an interest group. States and cities are locality groups, the legal system is a collection of law groups, income categories are wealth groups, followers of a politician are personality groups.
"Anyone who comes into public life claiming not to have an interest is either deluded or deceitful."
Thirty years ago the NY Times' Bill Safire predicted that interest groups would give our democracy a terminal case of hardening of the arteries. He knew, as we all do, that in our system it is a lot easier to stop than start something, anything, and that the status quo is always a three-touchdown favorite.
Unfortunately and unhappily both Bentley and Safire continue to be proven right.
A close-to-home example of their theories in action is the Milwaukee Public School System.
“The public interest” in fixing this broken, mostly dys-to-non-functional system is obvious.
Over whose dead bodies?
There is the teachers’ union that wants a fix but not one that threatens the job security and economic well being of its members. That is its interest.
There are the school choice advocates who want a fix, want it to be their fix and or can be counted on to oppose any fix that doesn’t fit their ideological solution. That is their interest.
The business community needs a working school system, and will buy into almost any silver bullet anyone proposes, but it can’t cost too much.
The suburbs are keeping their mostly functioning school systems and themselves at arm’s length and making sure that any kind of regional fix doesn’t hit the table. That is their interest
The state’s many experts imbedded in the state’s many schools of education either have a different agenda for themselves and their students and faculties, haven’t been invited to contribute their ideas, don’t have any ideas, or don’t want to get involved.
Those political, church, and community leaders who haven’t simply thrown up their hands because of the immensity of the social rot that many believe overwhelms any solution to the school system which is its main casualty not its cause also have other diverse interests to protect which are higher on their priority lists.
Once, a very long time ago, political activists were able to subsume the special interests that brought them to politics and create with other interests solutions to wide-ranging social and political and economic problems. My hope is that the groups that have lined up behind the admirable study of Milwaukee’s public schools commissioned by Governor Doyle and Mayor Barrett will go back to the past to find the future and do just that.
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