The Missing Pieces of the Preamble

If you haven’t had the opportunity to experience The Wilderness Downtown by Arcade Fire, please allow me to suggest that you enter your childhood address into the website and enjoy the ride back in time. The results as you will soon discover will vary depending on the availability of Google Streetview in your area, but given its prevalence in this day and age I’m certain you’ll find someplace in space and time to revisit.

What I appreciate most about the video is its ability to transport me to the street lights that I used to play under as a child, running back home as quickly as possible before they were fully lit. It’s a particular memory to be sure, but the music and the experience — along with the surprise ending which I won’t spoil — evoke a particular view of the city where I grew up. I can see myself not only as an individual but as an angst-ridden teenager surrounded by constant change.

This is important when looking at the missing pieces of the Constitution in today’s conversations which focus on freedom and liberty. While one or the other is clearly the objective of the United States and the Ohio State Constitutions, what exists equally in both is the promotion of our general welfare. We the people of the State of Ohio and these United States, in order to secure the blessings of liberty and promote the general welfare, do establish this Constitution.

When we focus solely on our individual blessings, we lose sight of our general welfare, and increasingly skip ahead to the line or the Amendment which enabled us to protect our communities, and instead serve our own personal interests. I’m referring of course to guns, not out of fear or contempt, but out of concern that we view the protection of our rights as ultimately dependent on them. To turn an old phrase, when you look at every problem down the barrel of a gun, every solution looks like a target.

To make matters worse, the Constitution which established the government is frequently found at the end of the barrel, being seen not as the framework of society but ultimately as it’s enemy. This narrative of the gun standing against the injustice of a corrupt and unholy system has eroded our faith in public education, made a monster of public healthcare, and turned the very notion of general welfare into a word: Unconstitutional.

What is missing in my mind is the image of America. Not as a soaring eagle dressed in red, white and blue but a place that I call home. A home I share with friends and family, with neighbors and policemen, doctors and shopkeepers. It’s a complicated and ever-changing place to be sure, one that requires the tool created by our Founders in order to function properly for all of us. That tool is the Government. To defend our rights and promote the general welfare we must learn how to use it.

Because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, that it’s not working well for many of us.

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Political Contention is a Feature Not a Bug

With the passage of yet another Election Day we find ourselves in familiar places discussing what the upset means for the losing parties, and what, if anything, will change when the successors take their place. In many of the local races, mostly notably for the three open seats on the Board of Education, the discussion continues to be quite contentious, based on accusations of allegiances to teachers unions and private interests that lie outside of the district.

It should be noted that these contentions are not a flaw in the democratic process, it’s a feature meant to provide momentum, to get people out to vote on Election Day. The specter of a Communist Union or Greedy Corporations serve to not only motivate us through fear, but to frame the conversation in simple terms that appeal to a wider audience. This simplification reduces fact to fiction, and ultimately erodes any pathways towards a potential solution.

Just over a hundred years ago, Ohio Representatives sought to alleviate some of this contention by making our democratic process more responsive to the needs of the people. With the inclusion of the initiative, the recall, and the referendum into the Ohio Constitution, residents could do more than simply vote in an election once every few years. In essence, voters could propose their own laws, veto existing laws, and even remove their representatives from office.

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Springboro Votes for the Changing of the Guard

As of 10 PM EST the Dayton Daily News reports that Springboro voters have elected Charles Anderson, Dr. Ron Malone, and David Stuckey to replace the outgoing members of the School Board. In addition, voters passed the renewal levy by over 3 to 1, pointing to the fact that residents of the Springboro are ready for the changing of the guard.

Over the last few years the actions of the School Board have caused quite a stir in the community, including a contentious dispute over the collective bargaining rights of the teachers union, the introduction of Creationism, along with a host of other “controversial issues.” ¬†Judging from the results of the election, it is evident that the Board overreached in its goals to make public education more affordable, as voters rejected David Bitner and Kolton Vaughn who previously pledged to continue pursing the Students First agenda.

David Petroni and Jim Rigano, both strong proponents of Students First and co-bloggers at Educate Springboro, will remain seated on the Board. The inclusion of Stuckey and Malone with the business experience of Anderson has the potential to restore balance to our community while focusing on the merits of Students First, assuming the Board can find a way to include the disparate voices in our conversation about education in the 21st century.

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In the Direction of Not Voting

My transition back into daily life after returning home from Tulum has not been an easy one. Four hours of sharing my adventures with my wife turned into four hours of sleep before four hours of dealing with a stranded vehicle. During all of this we took turns driving my daughter around to have some adventures of her own. We celebrated my wife’s birthday after a long siesta and somehow managed not to implode — although in all fairness, there were casualties.

I am saddened by the fact that my daughter might not be able to work the polls in the upcoming election as she has worked so hard to do. In all the chaos and confusion she missed her last opportunity for training. While there will certainly be other opportunities to work in future elections, I fear there may not be the same incentives to participate outside of the academic environment.

The idea of participating more than two to four times a year in our Democracy isn’t very enticing to most people, and with good reason. Since my return, the debate in our local elections has become quite bitter, as rumors have been spreading about one candidate’s financial supporters and another’s alignment with Children’s First principles. The only incentive that most of us have to participate is to defeat the bad guys and earn the right to complain about the results, as the old saying goes.

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Returning Home from Tulum

A buddy of mine who I hadn’t seen in many years invited me and a couple of our mutual friends to join him for a week in Tulum, Mexico. Being my first time out of the country I immediately jumped at the chance. The opportunity to travel to another land with the smartest, most creative people I am blessed to call friends was amazing enough in and of itself, but the theme of our journey I found to be particularly intreaguing.

The prerequisite for him booking the beach camp and all the Mayan adventures was to read Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, the essential economic principles for American Libertarians and Austrian Economists alike. While it took an enormous amount of effort to work the material through my Liberal upbringing, I found its lesson simple enough to be understood by both sides equally:

The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

Once we arrived at the beach house it seemed the prospect of discussing Hazlitt’s book quickly diminished. Surrounded by palm trees with the sound of the ocean blowing through the hammocks made it immediately evident that we were in Mexico, and the thought of bringing our country’s problems on the beaches of paradise went further out to sea as the week progressed.

Playa Selva along the beaches of Tulum, Mexico.

Playa Selva alongside the beaches of Tulum, Mexico.

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Replacing Market Values in Our Local Elections

As a child born in the mid 70’s, I’ve been so deeply submerged in the quiet revolution that Michael Sandel describes in his TED Talk about why we shouldn’t trust markets with our civic life that I couldn’t imagine the alternative. As I have learned over the years, everything costs money, from healthcare to education, and regardless of the old adage that the best things in life are free, the market values which permeate our culture reduce everything down to the bottom line.

Our market values are problematic in a number of areas as Sandel describes, but the most worrisome is how pervasive this type of thinking has become in our civic life. Once every few years, candidates in our local elections work hard to raise money in order to print yard signs, design campaign websites, and spend time in public debates or going door to door asking for our votes. After the election is over and the votes have been tallied, representatives become emboldened by the mandates of their electors and disappear from the public debates, without the need to show up on our doorsteps until the next election season.

While many people in Washington are committed to getting money out of politics, most of their solutions are based on market values such as limiting the amount of money that campaigns can raise, or providing candidates with a public option in order to level the playing field. In these examples, money is still the primary focus, and the essential means of connecting with constituents is overlooked, being replaced by campaign slogans and the need to stay on message. In short, interactions with our representatives have been replaced by advertising, with little effort being afforded to using the network in order to empower our democracy.

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Lori Kershner on Cooperation Between the City and the Schools

In the early days of our nation, the majority of Americans received their education at home. Teaching was done by the parents or a private tutor if they were fortunate enough to afford one. The Puritans were the first to identify the need for a public education and established schools across New England. After the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson argued to build an educational system funded by taxpayer dollars, but it wasn’t until 1852 when the first compulsory education laws were passed in Massachusetts, which by 1918 lead to every American child being required to attend public schools.

The responsibility of governing public schools was separated from the city council early on in the history of education. As the demand for public education began to increase, selectmen separated educational governance from city governance and appointed committees in each town to govern local school systems. In 1837, Massachusetts established the first State Board of Education, though the authority remained at the local level as many were distrustful of the state’s ability to represent local interests. The Massachusetts model of governing education spread throughout the colonies and its separation from city council has persisted into the present day.

On the surface this would seem to be an ideal model for many of the challenges we face as a nation (including the compulsory healthcare laws which coincidentally originated in Massachusetts). A National Network of State Boards of Education whose authority rests in the hands of local School Boards elected by the community. But when you dig a little deeper into the disconnect between the city and the schools, you see more than a separation of governance. You see the silos which Lori Kershner identified on her website which calls for “better cooperation between the city and the schools.”

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