Beware Ideologues Like Mourdock and Skandera

Beware Ideologues Like Mourdock and Skandera

Be afraid of ideologues this election. They’re taking over government and will only make things worse. The system was not set up for hard-liners.

How do you spot an ideologue? Some candidates in other states have made it easy by opining about rape in insane ways. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdoch’s comment in a debate that rape pregnancies are “something that God intended to happen” actually helped voters by demonstrating exactly what he stands for. Vote in an abortion ideologue like this guy and he’ll do nothing on tax reform or government efficiency. There is whole class of politicians who believe they’re on a mission from God to infiltrate lawmaking and “save babies.” 

That’s how Rep. Alonzo Baldonado explained his bill to me over the last New Mexico legislative session. The law, had it passed, would have required a minor seeking an abortion to write a letter to her parents about it. Forty-eight hours after the letter was delivered, it would be legal to terminate the pregnancy. Baldonado said he was elected to save babies. He wondered “whether it (America) will end before we know it” because we “take God out of the equation.” 

Now, you’re not going to change Baldonado’s mind on this. Not ever. And that’s why he and the other abortion fanatics make for such pure examples of political hardliners. They come into office with a single-minded goal and legislate thusly. 

What should scare people is the harder-to-spot hardliners. Abortion’s an easy one. But what about in education? Last month, the New Mexico Superintendents Council wrote Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera a letter criticizing the school grading program. Their problem wasn’t that the grades are wrongheaded and opaque but that they’d been implemented without any input from the council. That input is, apparently, required by law. 

So the problem wasn’t the grades themselves, but that the grades were implemented without any input from outside stakeholders. Ideologue alert! 

Here’s a quote from a teacher who spoke up during a public meeting on Skandera’s other big cause, teacher evaluations: “I would be happy to work with you. I’ve invited you to come to my classroom before and have not heard back. We are the experts and we would like to be considered as such so we can work together to develop a truly innovative educational reform in this state.”

PED’s response? To go ahead with the plan it made without outside input, and to diss the teachers who stood up for themselves against staunch political ideologues. “It’s no surprise that a select few from the status quo continues to fight accountability,” said PED spokesman Larry Behrens at the time. “We will continue to work with those who want to put students before cheap political rhetoric.” 

Citing “cheap political rhetoric” within one’s own cheap political rhetoric is the classic tool of the ideological tool. We allow this to happen, though, when we elect leaders who actively practice evading tough questions. 

I always think about George W. Bush come election time. His reelection in 2004 was shocking, and left something like a scar. I’ve been cynical about politics ever since. It’s mostly a lying game. 

There was a particular trait of Bush’s that we need to consider when we look at our elected or appointed policy makers. Bush’s most controversial decision was the launching of the Iraq war, and he faced opposition within his own team on whether it was the right thing to do. That opposition, though, was fired. Bush fired everyone who dared criticize his decision. Economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey said the war would cost $200 billion and was fired. General Shinseki predicted we would need several hundred thousands troops in Iraq and was fired. Terrorism advisor Richard Clarke said Saddam and Al Qaeda weren’t connected and was fired. 

We can’t have hard-core ideologues in government at any level. We just can’t. “Checks and balances” means powerful politicians should not be able to pick an approach and doggedly stick with it no matter what anyone else says or does. What makes Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez so much more right about teacher evaluations than teachers themselves? That Martinez received a particular number of votes? What makes Baldonado and Mourdock right to say abortion is evil, when that battle was already fought decades ago? The fact that they were voted into office?

Is there a string-theory alternate universe where politicians work together to solve problems like jobs and education? I hope so. In our universe, one side stakes out a position and holds on like grim death. Arguing ensues, elections are held, and everything stays the same. 

This would be a much better country if we got the ideologues out of office. 

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