Two plus two isn't five

Jul 11, 2013

I have nothing against the Theater of the Absurd. I was taught French years ago by an odd method based on the comedies of Eugene Ionesco, the master of irrational dialogue. But absurdity doesn’t work very well as a guide to life, unless, say, you are an infant, or have only months to live.

Two plus two is, after all four. If you want your children to be successful in life, they generally need to know reading, writing and arithmetic. However, we seem to have a set of leaders, both left and right, who have made careers out of denying reality.

Let’s take education, first of all. The non-partisan, respected Education Trust, Midwest released a report yesterday showing that Michigan students are performing below the national average in every category. That’s worse than thirty-five other states.

Fewer than thirty percent of our eighth graders are proficient in math. Fewer than three quarters of our students ever graduate from high school, far worse than the national average. You have to wonder if the dropouts are expecting to get jobs on the line at Oldsmobile.

Because they’re not. What this highlights, the Education Trust says, is the need to adopt and enforce the Common Core Curriculum education standards.  Yet our lawmakers won’t do that, because crazy right-wingers see Common Core as some kind of massive federal plot to dictate what our kids learn in school.

The fact is that Common Core came out of a meeting of the National Governors’ Association, most of whom are Republicans. But the Tea Party doesn’t want to be confused with the facts.

They aren’t alone. Yesterday, a coalition of Detroit workers and retirees sued to try and stop Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr from taking the city into bankruptcy. Why?

They don’t want their pensions reduced.  Michigan’s state constitution does outlaw reducing agreed-upon pensions for public employees. Trouble is, any bankruptcy filing would be in federal court, and when federal law and state law conflict, federal law prevails. So they are afraid of losing their pensions. The creditors who lent Detroit the many billions the city owes don’t want to lose their money, either. But they are apparently unwilling to make a deal, even though it is clear that, as the Big Bopper’s old song went, there ain’t no money, honey.

It’s hard to see how either group thinks stalling or suing can help, or what they think they will gain by preventing legal bankruptcy.

To continue our tour of the absurd; what Detroit unquestionably needs is more people and more money, and there is one easy way of getting both. Everybody loves to beat up on undocumented immigrants -- what we used to call “illegal aliens.“

Yesterday, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released an estimate calculating that in Michigan alone, undocumented immigrants paid more than $126 million dollars in state and local taxes. If Congress gave them some form of legal status, that number would be certain to rise.

Yet Congress refuses to do this. Everybody knows the story of the insane man who kept hitting himself with a hammer, because it felt so good to stop. We are all being clobbered daily by our leaders, and the question we need to ask is, how do we get them to stop?

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.