In the 1950s, when Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy convened hearings to root out Communists and their sympathizers from government, the military, the media and the entertainment industry, the term “fellow traveler” came into vogue. As used by McCarthy and his fellow demagogues, it described someone they suspected was sympathetic to Communist goals without actually joining the Communist Party.
While charges of creeping Communism may seem as antiquated today as Sputnik or tail fins on automobiles, that term is now being thrown around by some opponents of the Common Core educational standards. Some even call the standards “Commie Core.” Sadly, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who shamelessly courts the most extreme right wing of the GOP in his quixotic quest for the presidency, has cast his lot with — and staked his political future on — the commie-baiters. How Jindal got to this point offers a stark lesson in modern political demagoguery.
In recent months, Jindal has steadily amped up his anti-Common Core rhetoric — even though, less than two years ago, he ranked among Common Core’s staunchest supporters. The governor’s about-face has been a huge disappointment to business leaders and leading GOP state lawmakers, who continue to back Common Core despite the governor’s self-serving flip-flop. Despite Jindal’s newfound opposition to Common Core, state lawmakers steadfastly refused to abandon or weaken the educational standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states.
Lawmakers’ refusal to ditch Common Core has not ended the debate in Louisiana, however. Last week, the Tea Party of Louisiana published an open letter to Jindal on its website urging him to veto House Bill 953 by state Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans. HB 953 was a bipartisan compromise designed to delay implementation of some Common Core standards and the accompanying Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. The tea party was unimpressed by the compromise measure. Its shrill letter to Jindal predicted that Common Core would become “the ‘Crown Jewel’ for the final part of the Communist takeover of America from within” and compared Common Core’s standards to Adolf Hitler’s efforts to indoctrinate the youth of Nazi Germany.
To the profound disappointment of every rational observer of the Common Core debate, Jindal obliged the tea party and vetoed the bill. In doing so, he ignored pleas from many of Louisiana’s top business leaders, who sent him a letter reminding him why he supported Common Core in the first place. But Jindal didn’t stop there. On June 18, he announced his own, unilateral assault on Common Core via executive order. He called the initiative a “federal takeover of our curriculum” — a blatant misstatement of the facts. Common Core was developed by the nation’s governors (including Jindal), not the feds, and curriculum is still determined locally. Tellingly, his executive order announced Louisiana’s “withdrawal” to the National Governors’ Association, which developed the program — not to the federal government.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has blasted Jindal’s flip-flop, saying (accurately), “Gov. Jindal was a passionate supporter before he was against it. So this finesse situation is about politics, it is not about education.” Jindal reacted petulantly, saying, “We will not be bullied by the federal government. The proponents of Common Core claim it is not a federal takeover, but Secretary Duncan’s comments and actions prove otherwise. He has already threatened Oklahoma with a loss of funding, and we may be next.”
That’s another Jindal lie. The federal government has not threatened Oklahoma with a cut in education funds; as long as that state can show it is meeting basic competency standards by any method, it’s eligible for the funds. Jindal knows this. His newfound (and increasingly belligerent) opposition to Common Core is political grandstanding at its worst.
John White, Jindal’s hand-picked state Superintendent of Education, has bristled at the governor’s posturing and let loose after Jindal’s executive order. “The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Louisiana Department of Education today reaffirmed that the state will implement the Common Core State Standards” beginning this school year, White said. BESE president Chas Roemer also reiterated his support of Common Core. Jindal’s executive order no doubt will trigger a constitutional showdown to determine who sets educational policy in Louisiana.
Like or dislike Common Core, there’s nothing “Communist” about it. In fact, its supporters are among the nation’s most ardent capitalists. If there’s a fellow traveler here, it’s Bobby Jindal, who has consistently pandered to the farthest extremes of the GOP — at the expense of Louisiana citizens.