Everyone hates Common Core.
In New York, they hate it on the Left and they hate it on the Right.
They gather by the hundreds to yell at state officials, they write letters to the editor about it, they plan lawsuits to trip it up.
It is quite possibly the most universally unpopular government policy in a generation. And in New York, that’s saying something.
What is Common Core?
It’s the nationwide public-school curriculum that is the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s Race To The Top program. It tells America’s teachers what to teach and how to teach it. It makes Washington the master of American education and, consequently, the master of the American mind.
That’s why conservatives don’t like it. They believe it’s indoctrination, not education.
And they’re probably right.
Liberals don’t like it because it essentially castrates the teaching profession. The individual abilities, insights and creativity of teachers count for nothing.
Some fret over the pace and means of implementation. Others mourn the death of America’s tradition of locally controlled education. They fear the imposition of an official national “culture” based on the liberal, big city values of the president and his party.
People come from different places, but they arrive at the same destination – they hate Common Core.
And they’ve taken it out on the state’s unfortunate education commissioner, a nice enough fellow who might as well have “scapegoat” tattooed across his forehead. He has been yelled at, cussed at and had any number of people remind him that his own children attend private schools.
But he’s the sacrificial lamb.
Ironically, all the rage associated with Common Core has completely missed the two men directly responsible for it – Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo. One is god and the other is the son of a god, and in America’s most reliably Democratic state, these two guys get a pass.
Even though it is a $700 million arrangement between the two of them that assures that, no matter how much people howl, Common Core is a burden New Yorkers are going to have to get used to.
Because it was $700 million that Barack Obama sent to the New York state government that got Andrew Cuomo to commit the state to being the nation’s big-population home to Common Core.
We’re the bought-and-paid-for guinea pigs.
We are also the voiceless masses.
The governor and the president have decided how our schools will be run, and if we don’t like it, we are free to go pound salt.
It doesn’t matter how impassioned we are, it doesn’t matter how wrong we believe it is. There are 20 million votes against Common Core, and 700 million votes for it. It’s your kids on one side of the balance, and $700 million on the other, and your kids come up wanting.
Which is a repudiation of about everything America stands for. Local control is lost, federal supremacy is established, the people’s voice is ignored. The parents and teachers of your community mean nothing, the president and his planners mean everything, your children’s developing minds become receptacles for a one-size-fits-all liberalism, imported from far away.
And New York is just one of the first beachheads.
Yes, we need educational accountability. We need to hold schools, teachers and students to high standards. We must move away from the lowest-common-denominator standard which defines so much of contemporary education.
But you can’t do the right thing the wrong way.
When George W. Bush imposed No Child Left Behind, many Republicans silently ignored the violation of principle because it was their guy and they liked what he was pushing. Improving education, pushing back against the teachers unions, raising standards. That all sounds good.
But it came at the cost of a deadly precedent.
It established the precedent that it’s OK for the federal government to take a large and direct role in structuring American public education. It made Washington the master and locals the slaves.
And when Barack Obama was elected, he adopted Common Core and made it his own. He kept the idea of federal control, and imposed a different direction and objective.
And here we are.
And everybody’s mad.
And everybody’s going to lose.
Because Andrew Cuomo and Barack Obama have made their deal.
Obama wrote the check and Cuomo cashed it.
And the rest of us can go to hell.
I think I ought to have today off.
Me, and every other veteran.
As it is, I’m going to work, and so are a lot of other veterans, and the only people who get off are the school kids, the bankers, the government people and the mail man.
This is one of those optional holidays, which means it’s not much of a holiday, and I’m fine with that. Nobody went in the service to get their hind end kissed.
Mostly they went in because they needed to get on with life, or to get a place to live or some food in their belly or a doctor for their pregnant wife. Some had a national enemy they wanted to fight – the Japanese, the Germans, the Koreans, the Soviets – or a personified foe – Tojo, Charlie, Hadji -- or something personal to prove. Some had to choose between jail and boot camp, or had been thrown out of the house or needed a job, or a way to pay for college.
Whatever the reason they came in, they each toed the line, and they raised their arm to the square.
That’s the first bond of the veteran.
Each person enlisted or commissioned in the armed forces of the United States must take the same oath, to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to that Constitution. It’s a blood oath. You keep it, and you shed your blood to keep it, if you must.
It’s also an oath without an expiration date.
You may sign up for a period of years, and your legal obligation to the government may end, but death is the only thing that lets a serviceman out of his oath to stand by the Constitution, as its defender and follower, in war and peace.
For many veterans, the meaning of that oath and the obligation it places upon them grows keener with the passing of the years.
Another aspect of that oath of enlistment or commissioning is that it must be administered in the presence of the flag of the United States. A man or woman must stand in front of the flag and raise his or her arm to the square and make a lifelong pledge.
For many veterans, each sight of that flag for the rest of their lives is a subtle reminder of that oath. It is also a reminder of another event which binds all veterans together – the parting embrace of that flag before they are lowered beneath the sod.
See, that’s where we get our payoff.
Not today, but at the last day.
There are only two classes of people who are entitled to having the American flag laid across their caskets – presidents of the United States and honorably discharged members of the armed forces.
On that day, America will say thank you. On the day we are released from our oath, the flag which witnessed it will give us our farewell. It is a hug from the nation we served.
When a veteran sees the flag flying high, he unconsciously understands that looming day. He understands that the flag brought him in and the flag will see him out.
Because a veteran, a veteran true to his oath, is a different sort of person. Because of his experiences, and because of his character.
The experiences are varied, from long sea duty to company supply rooms to the roar of a jet engine or the ping, ping, ping of enemy fire. Some go to war, most serve in peace, all promise to go where they are sent, to do what they are told, to pay whatever price. Duty isn’t what you are asked to do, it is how you respond to what you are asked to do. Consequently, the honor is not in what you are asked to do, it is in the faithfulness with which you do what you are asked to do. The proverbial blank check is for literally up to and including your very life, and the bravest day of your life is when you sign that check and hand it over to Uncle Sam.
Everything after that is just duty.
And a veteran is a veteran.
And a veteran is different from a civilian.
To be honest, a veteran is better than a civilian. At least that’s what most veterans think. It’s an attitude that kicks in about the time of the gas chamber at basic training. When the long days and the early dawns and the constant stress and abuse become bearable, when a young GI begins to master new skills, when he gets beyond the point of being scared crapless and begins to build that sense of can-do confidence, when he starts to become a fire-eating bad ass, that’s when a veteran becomes different from a civilian.
And that’s when other veterans become his brothers. It may be forged on the battlefield, or it may be simply formed by the common uncertainty of military service, the camaraderie and commiseration of being under orders and marching to the whim of superiors who almost always seem to be idiots.
We all loved it, and the further we get from it the more we loved it. But not many of us re-enlisted. For most of us, once was enough. It was a hard and wonderful time, when most of us grew up, when we belonged to something bigger than ourselves and did something that truly mattered, when we became people who will live to the end of our days defined and shaped by the time we spent in the uniform and service of our country.
That’s what a veteran is. That’s who we are.
And this is our day.
And we’re going to do what we’ve always done. We’re going to get up and go to work.
I feel sorry for Maggie Brooks.
And I was enraged to see her husband, a retired police captain, handcuffed and perp walked across Exchange by some lard asses from the attorney general’s office.
It’s all a very sad affair.
But it’s their fault. As political as the prosecution may be, as innocent as the accused may be, even if the charges are completely wrong, it’s their fault.
Maggie and Bob crapped the bed, and now they have to lie in it.
At 12:30 yesterday, with an army of reporters waiting, a phalanx of dark suits walked out of the building where the attorney general keeps his Rochester offices. Four of the men were in handcuffs. The cameras were all on one of them. That was Bob Weisner, the husband of Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.
He used to be a section captain on the Rochester Police Department, when such men were kings of the neighborhoods they patrolled. He was mostly well liked, and he had that swagger from the days when men were tough and proud of it. She was the TV babe who ended up knocking on doors asking for votes to the county legislature. With her sometimes tempestuous personal life, he came along after she dumped the Wayne Newton lookalike. They seemed like a good fit, a couple of larger-than-life personalities, finally at peace, easing together through the latter half of middle age.
You were glad they had each other.
And now, they may prove to be one another’s undoing. Or rather, the dynamic of their union may undo them both.
He’s in handcuffs, she’s in jeopardy.
And it’s all their fault.
That doesn’t mean I think the charges are correct, or that I even understand what they are. The attorney general believes that somehow, someway, some wildly complex county business relationships were rigged to favor certain companies with ties to Maggie’s Republican establishment. Some – but not Bob or Maggie – are accused of benefiting financially from these operations.
That doesn’t mean that I think the attorney general’s staff is blameless in this. Part of me suspects that they are a pack of snakes. Yesterday’s perp walk, for example, was advertised some 20 hours in advance in an off-the-record memo sent out by the AG’s Albany staff. Revealing the existence of an unopened indictment – like this one – is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.
The office of the state’s top prosecutor violated the law in an effort to embarrass and demean Bob Weisner, and to further whatever objectives of political vilification it can.
So the indictments have come down.
It’s been a yearlong investigation, which some have called a witch hunt by the Democrat attorney general. But there are indictments. And they are either the fruit of conscientious investigation or political assassination.
I don’t know what the accusations are, and I don’t know if anybody’s guilty.
But I do know that the conduct of Maggie Brooks and Bob Weisner has raised questions year after year about their personal integrity. The two of them, keeping with a long-standing tradition among local Republican politicians, used her clout to fatten his paycheck. They practiced patronage of the vilest and most obvious sort.
She’s county executive, and he gets a cush job at the Monroe County Water Authority. She’s county executive, and he gets another cush job at the Monroe (County) Community College. Repeatedly challenged on it, she brushed off questions and criticisms and said that her husband got his big-ticket jobs on the strength of his own ability.
And certainly, Bob Weisner is a competent person. But, then, so are a lot of other retired cops who would love the jobs only he could seem to get.
Maggie and Bob may have thought their behavior was acceptable because the Republican politicians all around them were practicing it. Wives with judgeships, step-sons with executive positions, kids and cousins scattered all over the payroll.
It was just the way business was done.
But it was, and had always been, immoral.
It is simply not right. To use public office for personal benefit is not honorable. It’s not Republican, it’s not Democrat, it’s crooked.
And it shouldn’t be.
But Maggie Brooks, instead of cleaning house and bringing integrity to Republican stewardship of Monroe County government, waded into the swamp of easy money.
Which made people all the more uncomfortable with her “local development corporations” and their massive, years-long contracts. Astronomical amounts of taxpayer money was put in private pockets and Maggie said it was for the public good. Her cronies and her husband had their fingers in various pies and it didn’t look right.
And that drew the attorney general.
And the FBI and whoever else you might care to list.
And they have made a cottage industry out of investigating Maggie and the Republicans. Was it because of politics, as Maggie claimed, or because of corruption, as Democrats claimed?
Maybe these indictments bring us closer to an answer.
Either way, the seeds of doubt and impropriety planted by Maggie’s nepotism have born a bitter fruit.
She didn’t stand for integrity, and now she may fall for a lack of it.