Public Officials With A Dim View Of The Public Good


What do former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and North Carolina state Rep. Tim Moffitt have in common? They both take a rather dim view of public education.

A Buncombe County Republican and a member of the state’s House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement, Moffitt received a flood of election-year criticism for recent comments about public education. Moffitt is one of over three dozen North Carolina politicians affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded organization that promoting its ghost-written model legislation in states across the country and whose goals in education are, according to critics, “ideological — creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone — and profit-driven.” The Charlotte Observer quoted Moffitt saying in the education committee on which he sits, “I am very suspect of early childhood education. I am very suspect of education in general.”

So is Santorum. Last March, Santorum suggested to New Hampshire voters that Democrats use public schools like a “drug dealer outside a school yard” as a means of “drugging” children into dependency on government. According to a New York Times report on Saturday, Santorum told the crowd at a campaign stop in Ohio, “… the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.”

One wonders what America conservatives such as Moffitt and Santorum actually live in and wish to conserve. The Los Angeles Times reminded its readers: “Aside from schools for the children of military personnel, the federal government does not actually operate schools. Most U.S. schools are supported primarily by state or local funding, or a combination of the two.”

Santorum’s calling public schools anachronistic recalls how, in justifying the George W. Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” regime, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda rendered Geneva Convention restrictions on questioning prisoners “obsolete,” and other provisions “quaint.” Like state constitutions that call for the establishment and support of public schools and state universities, perhaps.

John Adams (a tea party favorite) wrote in 1785, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

To that purpose, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (passed under the Articles of Confederation prior to ratification of the U.S. Constitution) called for new states formed from what is now the American Midwest to encourage “schools and the means of education,” and the Enabling Act of 1802 signed by President Thomas Jefferson (for admitting the same Ohio that Santorum visited on Saturday) required — as a condition of statehood — the establishment of schools and public roads, funded in part by the sale of public lands. Enabling acts for later states followed the 1802 template, establishing permanent funds for public schools, federal lands for state buildings, state universities and public works projects (canals, irrigation, etc.), and are reflected in state constitutions from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The practice continued up to and including the enabling act for the admission of Hawaii in 1959 as America’s 50th state, for example (emphasis added):

(f) The lands granted to the State of Hawaii by subsection (b) of this section and public lands retained by the United States under subsections (c) and (d) and later conveyed to the State under subsection (e), together with the proceeds from the sale or other disposition of any such lands and the income therefrom, shall be held by said State as a public trust for the support of the public schools and other public educational institutions, for the betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians, as defined in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920, as amended, for the development of farm and home ownership on as widespread a basis as possible for the making of public improvements, and for the provision of lands for public use. Such lands, proceeds, and income shall be managed and disposed of for one or more of the foregoing purposes in such manner as the constitution and laws of said State may provide, and their use for any other object shall constitute a breach of trust for which suit may be brought by the United States. The schools and other educational institutions supported, in whole or in part out of such public trust shall forever remain under the exclusive control of said State; and no part of the proceeds or income from the lands granted under this Act shall be used for the support of any sectarian or denominational school, college, or university.

Sometime between 1959 and now, Moffitt/Santorum-style conservatives who swore oaths to uphold the constitutions and laws of the United States and their home states decided that providing public education, an American tradition — nay, requirement — dating from the earliest days of the republic became “suspect” and “anachronistic.”

The animus towards public education suggests their fealty might lie elsewhere. The late Molly Ivins slyly observed that in conservative Texas, the job of “gummint” is to “legislate, regulate and tax in order to maintain the healthy bidness climate.” Business-friendly politicians tout their private sector experience as qualification for holding positions of public trust, and garner financial and political support from the business lobby, yet reject the same bigger-is-better, economies-of-scale, increased-efficiency approach when it comes to not-for-profit public institutions such as public education. In Ohio, Santorum criticized public schools as “big factories.” But the education industry’s objection is really not size, cost, or lack of accountability, but lack of middle-man profit. Businesses such as Santorum-rival Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital “worship efficiency at any cost,” writes Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore College. But it is one particular kind of efficiency:

What Bain Capital, and firms like it, do is try to increase the efficiency of the companies they buy. They try to get more with less — to eliminate waste. They are not interested either in creating jobs or in destroying them. Nor are they interested in improving the lives of consumers by making products and services better and cheaper. They are interested in profit — for themselves and their shareholders.

As reported here and here and here, that same hunger for private profit is behind the widespread assault on public education from education industry and “reform” advocates. It is not about innovation, efficiency, smaller government, lower taxes, deficits, choice, or the Constitution. It is about getting investors a piece of the trillion-dollar K-12 public education action, “the Big Enchilada,” as Jonathan Kozol wrote for Harper’s:

It is this prospect – and the even more appealing notion that companies that start by managing these schools might at some future point achieve the right, through changes in state laws, to own the schools as well – that helps explain why EMOs [Education management Organizations] like Edison, which has yet to turn a profit, nonetheless attract vast sums of venture capital. The “big enchilada” represented by the corporate invasion of public schools, even if it takes place only in progressive stages, is sufficiently enticing to investors to keep the money flowing in anticipation of a time when private corporations will not merely nibble at the edges of the public system but will devour it altogether.

That may not serve the public good. It may not create jobs, improve education or improve the lives of students. Or in any way resemble the founders’ vision. But it might net the right people a lot of public money.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece referred to Rep. Tim Moffitt as chair of the House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement. He is a member.


  1. Dixiegirlz says:

    SOMEONE with a well trained b.s. meter needs to confront Mr. Moffitt re: his involvement withALEC. I am going through the footage I shot on Monday night. Moffitt is asked about his involvement and he responds with a very dismissive /minimizing manner. No one pursued further. Someone please address this on Thursday at the ag center.

  2. Nancy says:

    Just for the record, Rep. Moffitt is a member of the House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Improvement, not a chair. Otherwise, this piece is startlingly accurate.

    Public schools are now referred to as ‘government-run schools.’ And we all understand that coded language…..

  3. Andrew Dahm says:

    I don’t think there’s any formulation of the water thing that doesn’t wind up with Moffitt pro-privatization, no matter what he says.

    Obviously, anybody who wanted the system to remain in public hands would simply leave things alone. Anybody who’s attended the water forums has to agree that the Mayor and Council acting to privatize the system amounts to political suicide in this town.

    On the other hand, expropriation pretty much equals eventual privatization: an underfunded, politically impotent board, deferred maintenance and improvements, “the EPA’s breathing down our necks,” a white knight public corporation with a checkbook, etc.

    Mr. McGrady referred to privatization as a “strawman.” Incorrect. The strawman is Rep. Moffitt’s assertion that the City is threatening the County with a host of things it’s legally prohibited from doing.

  4. Ascend of Asheville says:

    It’s all about plausible deniability. Both Moffitt and McGrady can claim with a perfectly straight face that they neither one want to privatize. They just want to do good, like Mephistopheles. Then when the regional authority goes on to privatize the thing, they can be just as aghast as everyone else.
    Come to think of it, that’s a lot more “Mack the Knife” than Mephistopheles, but you get the point.

  5. TJ says:

    “Moffitt is asked about his involvement and he responds with a very dismissive /minimizing manner. No one pursued further. Someone please address this on Thursday at the ag center.”

    I hope someone also asks him who taught him that theft and lying are virtues to desire?

    Monday, someone asked him if he was going to answer a question posed. He responded he thought he had answered one (I wish I could see that tape and refresh my memory of all the bs he passed along). I remember telling my neighbor that with that answer, he actually DID fail to answer their question. Apparently, no one noticed the irony.

  6. Tim Peck says:

    “Public schools are now referred to as ‘government-run schools.’ And we all understand that coded language…..”

    I don’t understand that coded language. What is it?

  7. Gordon Smith says:

    Yes, hm? What ever could he mean?

    I’d respond, Tim, but I’ve got to get government-subsidized gasoline into my government-subsidized truck and go down the government-run roads to the government-run NC Agricultural Center to find out if our government-run water system is going to be run by an entity other than the government by order of the government.

  8. Nancy says:

    Tim, let me help decode it for you: The ‘government’ has been thoroughly and effectively demonized (by politicians, I might add, whose livelihoods are subsidized by and dependent on that ‘government’). By substituting ‘government’ for ‘public’ when talking about public schools, the associated disparagement is achieved.

    Frank Luntz can probably explain it better than I can.

  9. Dixiegirlz says:

    I’m certain there is much to be improved in the Government. I’m all for proper ( independent) oversight on any monies dispersed . But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Frankly the rabid anti- Government types are scarey.

  10. RHS says:

    “Government is simply the name we give to those things we choose to do together.” – Rep. Barney Frank

  11. Beebee says:

    Tim did pretty well as a student in our public education system. Why would he be agin it?


  12. Tim Peck says:

    Well, Nancy, I can’t think of any public schools that are operated by a private sector organization. I think it is a perfectly accurate use of language to refer to so-called “public” schools as government-run. Sorry if that bothers you, but it’s an important distinction.

  13. Tim Peck says:

    “Tim did pretty well as a student in our public education system. Why would he be agin it?”

    1. I didn’t say I was “agin it.

    2. I dropped out of government school in the ninth grade and got my education after that.

  14. TJ says:

    “Moffitt re: his involvement with ALEC”

    I noticed today how he deftly avoided it (while I was there, anyway. Did he EVER address it, when others brought up that point?

  15. Tom Sullivan says:

    He co-sponsored several ALEC bills; haven’t looked at how many others he voted for … yet.

  16. TJ says:

    “Tim did pretty well as a student in our public education system. Why would he be agin it?”

    Mmmmm…mabye because that’s a different Timmy?? Or, did I miss a name change or some high form of snark I am not savvy to, yet?

    Or,or….. well, I guess I just didn’t benefit from the same education he did.

  17. TJ says:

    @Tom: thanks for the info. I guess I don’t see the point in his avoiding it, when it’s available info, especially if he thinks it is such a good thing—he should stand up and be proud of it!

  18. shadmarsh says:

    2. I dropped out of government school in the ninth grade and got my education after that.

    I would’ve never guessed.

  19. Nancy says:

    Tim, ‘government-run’ schools is not in the common vernacular, and is only now being used by those who profess to distrust/hate/want to eliminate the government. Its use could be considered clever; feigned ignorance and literalism are not.

  20. Ascend of Asheville says:

    I hate to be a downer, but if the republican’t rank and file are using the term, it is now a part of the common vernacular. Welcome to the war of words. Once upon a time the term “tax relief” wasn’t part of the common vernacular either. Now you are as likely to hear it from a Democrat as a Republican.
    What we, as the other side need to do, and what I would ask of you, if you are willing, is to consider what it is we value. What do we profess? How can that be translated into convenient language that can dispel the poisonous catch-phrases of the right?
    This is a war of words, not a debate. we do not need accurate assessments of yesterday’s playing field. We need weaponized language. We need word bombs. We need to get ahead of the very act of recognizing the changing of the linguistic terrain. We must go on the offensive, creating the new vernacular before they get a chance to. Before they plant a landmark to guide their hapless minions towards the darkness of their fascist vision, we should already be there, with stronger, faster, more reassuring visions of our own. We must not linger over their choice of words, we must make them linger over ours!

  21. Andrew Dahm says:

    “Propaganda begins when dialogue ends.” Jacques Ellul

  22. Davyne Dial says:

    Like. This.


    Language: A Key Mechanism of Control

    As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that “language matters.” In the video “We are a Majority,” Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt.”

    That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.

    This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.

    While the list could be the size of the latest “College Edition” dictionary, we have attempted to keep it small enough to be readily useful yet large enough to be broadly functional. The list is divided into two sections: Optimistic Positive Governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community (your message) and Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic party.

    Please let us know if you have any other suggestions or additions. We would also like to know how you use the list. Call us at GOPAC or write with your suggestions and comments. We may include them in the next tape mailing so that others can benefit from your knowledge and experience.

    Optimistic Positive Governing Words

    Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!
    common sense
    eliminate good-time in prison
    hard work
    pro- (issue): flag, children, environment, reform
    Contrasting Words

    Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.
    abuse of power
    anti- (issue): flag, family, child, jobs
    “compassion” is not enough
    criminal rights
    failure (fail)
    permissive attitude
    punish (poor …)
    red tape
    status quo
    urgent (cy)

  23. Tom Sullivan says:

    Ah, that’s classic Gingrich, eh?

  24. Davyne Dial says:

    “Ah, that’s classic Gingrich, eh?”

    Machiavellian wannabe.

  25. Tim Peck says:

    “Mmmmm…mabye because that’s a different Timmy??”

    Is this supposed to be an attempted personal insult? I’m sorry you have no valid arguments.

  26. jim shura says:

    “Is this supposed to be an attempted personal insult? I’m sorry you have no valid arguments.”

    Both TJ’s comment and the link she refers to in post # 12 are about Tim Moffitt.

  27. TJ says:


    Thank you for clarifying. That is correct.

    I will toss out the “personal insult,” for TP’s benefit, though, if he insists. He tends to feel left out – the narcissist he appears to be. Oh, wait, that’s not an insult, that’s a catagorization in the lexicon of psychology. Of course, for anyone not privvy to prior posts, I will have complete transparancy and say I have not yet met TP.

    I am not taking new referrals, either.

    But, he likes attention, and sometimes, it is a bit of a source of entertainment, so let him have his feelings of being insulted, if he must. 😉

  28. TJ says:


    It’s interesting how all the words for their opponents seem to fit their own camp to a ‘T’

    Perhaps, like any good narcissist, they see their own reflection when they look at the “others.”

    Wow! I could have a whole practice just dealing with politicians.

    I don’t tend to like working with Sociopaths, though.

  29. Dixiegirlz says:

    @ TJ, yeah Sociopaths would just learn to do their dirty work better, when given insight into things of the psyche.

  30. trifecta says:

    Government stinks. Elect me. Now that I have been elected, things are going crappy. See. Goverment stinks!

  31. Ascend of Asheville says:

    Hi Hooligans,
    We seem to be verging on some ad hominem attacks here, and because it is relevant to the discourse heading for the gutter in such a fashion, I thought I would mention that this evening the Little Shop of Attitude will be focusing on the state of the political discourse and whether or not the rhetorical extremes people like me are guilty of are constructive and proper or not.
    Our guest will be Amy Meier, and her blog is http://civiltongue.com/
    If you would like to get into that conversation via twitter, use #LSOA. The show happens at 6:00, asheville fm dotorg.

  32. Davyne Dial says:

    Self examination is always a worthy endeavor. As long as one refrains from self examining themselves into a pile of quivering jello.

  33. Davyne Dial says:

    A. Dahm ~~”Mr. McGrady referred to privatization as a “strawman.” Incorrect. The strawman is Rep. Moffitt’s assertion that the City is threatening the County with a host of things it’s legally prohibited from doing.”

    McGrady also said there was many people in Henderson County up in arms over the present water situation. But despite his efforts to rally the troops, very few showed up. In reality the response at the AG Center meeting was overwhelmingly the opposite of what McGrady said.

  34. I’ll just pop out from my self-imposed exile long enough to point out that Tim Moffitt acknowledged two things at the MVA water forum on Monday:

    Privatization of Asheville’s water system could very well result from his study committee process (although he insists it would be an “unintended consequence”),

    …and his previous assurances that privatization wouldn’t ever happen are empty.

    Watch the video (thanks Davyne):


    Funny how this sort of thing never gets reported in this town.

    OK, back into the bunker…

  35. TJ says:

    Oh, come on, Barry, stay awhile.

    I find it striking that a politician seems to believe that they can say whatever they want, and that ordinary citizens just accept what they are told.

    Oh. Wait. That’s right, they do. We need that video and commentary to wake people up from their long sleep.

  36. Davyne Dial says:

    “Watch the video (thanks Davyne):”

    Thing is the camera picks up everything. The body language is revealing. The utter contempt is palpable.

  37. Tim Peck says:

    TJ: “Thank you for clarifying. That is correct.”

    I see. You meant to insult someone else. Thanks for the clarification.

    Oh, and we find you somewhat entertaining too.