17 September 2010

Mort Kondracke’s Wacko Litmus Test

Tonight on Special Report, commentator Mort Kondracke made a stunning declaration that he has developed a “litmus test” (his words) to tell which Republican candidates backed by various Tea Party groups are “wackos” (again, his word). Mr. Kondracke says that if one of these candidates says that the Department of Education should be abolished, then that candidate is a “wacko”. Mr. Kondracke equates the term “wacko” with far-right wing extremists who are unworthy of holding office. Mr. Kondracke’s litmus test could not be more off base.

First, as Stephen Hayes noted on the same program, it would be worthwhile to have a discussion about how schools have performed under increasingly greater and greater interference – or direction, depending on one’s point of view – from the federal level. Mr. Kondracke claims that schools are horrible now, with the implication that the federal role should at least be maintained if not increased. But this is typical for supporters of big government; if something isn’t working, then the size and scope of federal intervention must be increased in order to “solve” whatever problem is perceived. The idea that government is the problem when it comes to education (to borrow a phrase from President Reagan) seems to never enter the mid of bog government types.

Mr. Kondracke’s point – that abolishing stacks of levels of federal administration is a “wacko” idea – suggests a counter to his litmus test. One might posit that any person who claims that government agencies and programs are entities which cannot, must not be reduced or eliminated is himself a “wacko” of a different sort – a big government sort (regardless of party affiliation). Attaching the “wacko” label, though, would be ad hominem, so it might be best left off.

What might be more productive than various litmus tests would be several analyses and debates about the real-world efficacy and constitutionality of the multitude of departments which have sprouted over time in the executive branch of the US government. Surely some of them are necessary (Defense, State come to mind immediately). Others invite debate. One thing is for sure: if the government is unable or unwilling to critically evaluate its various agencies and departments, it will one day grow so large as to crush itself from its own mass.

As an aside, I invite Mr. Kondracke to read J. Gresham Machen’s testimony regarding the proposed formation of the Department of Education, given in February of 1926. It is quite a read.

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