09/20/2012 11:49 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2012

Reality Can Be Such a Great Concept... If We Embrace It

One source of growing concern in this political season is the increasing reluctance of Americans in all capacities to accept reality, when doing so leads to unpleasant revelations. From President Obama to Congress to critics of Governor Romney's supposed 47-percent gaffe to Chicago teachers, this "head in the sand" tendency is increasingly evident and worrisome.

The president sets the tone when he tells us the "private sector is doing fine" despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, but really hits his stride with his refusal to do more than wag his finger at Iran over its clear efforts to build nuclear weapons. Even when confronted with evidence that such efforts are coming to fruition, which may prompt Israel to address the situation as it sees fit, he does nothing more than state that he finds it unacceptable. Secretary of State Clinton further undermines the position of responsible countries when she says, "We're not setting deadlines." Somehow, it seems doubtful that this will dissuade the Iranians. Our dithering in the face of numerous attacks on our foreign embassies has not deterred the lunatics who obsess over the ravings of an unheard of American filmmaker, and it is hard to see anything positive from this "kick the can down the road" approach to Iran.

Evidently, Congress feels that higher taxes on Americans in the midst of a virtually non-existent recovery from recession will address this problem. That's the way it appears from its inaction and absence of meaningful debate on the fiscal cliff which we'll hit on December 31 if no action is taken. One can take issue with a reasoned decision to allow such a tax increase if it follows a real airing of views, but it still has the virtue of being a principled decision. Simply allowing such a tax hike, with dire economic consequences predicted by that bastion of right-wing dogma, the Congressional Budget Office, as a result of inertia is something else. Can the holders of our debt in China and elsewhere believe that our economic policy is being made by adults?

Governor Romney is being blasted by everyone in both parties for his insensitive statements about growing dependence on government by the now-infamous 47 percent. Yes, they were insensitive and should have been phrased differently. However, there has been little discussion about their accuracy, origin and implications for our economy and culture. There is little doubt that his figures were largely accurate and indicative of a historic failure of government policy, which is destroying private employment opportunities and forcing people onto the dole. Does President Obama believe that it is desirable that food stamp use (among other benefits) has increased so drastically during his term?

While exceptions exist, few seem interested in debating or even acknowledging why these numbers are at these levels and what we can do to reduce them. Whether or not the governor is an insensitive rich guy is beside the point when he is addressing such a serious economic and social problem. However, it seems much easier to castigate him for his insensitivity than it is to address the validity of his point.

This head in the sand tendency is not confined to Washington power brokers. The just-concluded Chicago teachers' strike illustrates an effort to totally disregard reality. For teachers who are already among the highest paid in the country in a school system with huge operating deficits, rapidly increasing taxes, an effectively bankrupt state and stagnant (at best) student achievement levels to demand more money is disregard for reality which should give us all pause as to their ability to impart knowledge to students.

More striking is their insistence on minimizing direct or indirect accountability for their performance as it impacts students. Certainly, many factors beyond the control of teachers impact achievement levels, but it is folly to the fifth power to pretend that instructional quality is irrelevant. It is insulting to taxpayers, virtually all of whom are accountable in some form for their work performance, to suggest that teachers should not be.

Similarly, increasing school choice is making increasing inroads across the country as parents and other observers become increasingly concerned about the micro (family) and macro (economic competitiveness) implications of a troubled educational system. However, news of this movement has not reached Chicago as teachers stubbornly resist the charter school movement and demand continuation of the status quo.

Our country is being buffeted by global forces that will engulf us if we do not respond. We can not respond if we do not acknowledge such forces, yet there is little evidence that people are doing so. If we want to maintain our freedom and standard of living, it's time to wake up and accept that these things will not happen unless we realize the threats to them.

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