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October 1st, 2010

The Voucher Vultures

Radio talker Allen Hunt’s signature line is that his show “isn’t about right and left, it’s about right and wrong.” At first this sounds good, but after you listen to him for about fifteen minutes you realize his opinion is not much different than that of most of the other guys on AM radio, the right is right and the left is wrong.

As I was driving home from work the other night, he was doing his favorite schtick, which is bashing Obama. On this night, he was all over the president for sending his daughters to private schools while we working stiffs with limited income have to send our children to public schools. He thought all Americans should be able to give their children a private education, through that favorite program of the public school naysayers, the voucher.

For the moment, let’s forget about how school vouchers take money away from public education, that even with vouchers many parents still wouldn’t be able to send their children off to some fancy day school, which would leave their children in underfunded public schools. We’ll also forget about how privatizing traditional government services always ends up costing taxpayers more for fewer services. What we’ll look at is the inconsistency of this position.

The Republicans are always opposed to anything that in anyway smells like an “entitlement.” They want to do away with Social Security and leave us all to gamble on the stock market as a way to fund our retirement. Likewise, they want Medicare flushed down the toilet. Welfare, food stamps, medicaid, unemployment insurance: all of these are just plain wrong, according to them, and need to be eliminated.

But when it comes to education vouchers, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. Suddenly every American parent should be able to send their children to any school in the land, with funds taken from taxpayer dollars, always at the expense of public school systems. This belief, practically built-in to the right-wing creed, seems to be most inconsistent with the rest of the conservative “philosophy.”

Why is the use of taxpayer dollars to fund private education any different from any of the other so-called entitlements that the conservatives oppose? Certainly I can see a difference as far as welfare, food stamps and Medicaid are concerned, as these are programs that don’t require any sort of payment in kind. But what about other services, like unemployment, Social Security and Medicare? These are funded by the recipients, with money being deducted from each and every paycheck.

What is the difference? Paying for a child’s private education with taxpayer funds that would otherwise be earmarked for public schools would seem to me to be nearly the same as funding a senior’s golden years through the accumulated social security tax paid over the course of a lifetime.

The truth is that the conservatives aren’t opposed to entitlements at all. In addition to supporting school vouchers, they support all manner of tax breaks for the rich and for corporate America, as well as many of the “incentives” for big business which come right out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

In other words, conservatives are only opposed to the entitlements they’re not likely to need or use.

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