Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama's Libya Speech Tonight

President Obama spoke to the nation tonight and sought to rally support for his intervention in Libya. I think he had some important goals: to clarify objectives and inspire the public to support them.

One rationale was that the US had to step in to stop the wholesale slaughter of civilians:

I made it clear that Gaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead, and I said that he needed to step down from power.

In the face of the world's condemnation, Gaddafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people. Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misratah was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air….

At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared that he would show "no mercy" to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi - a city nearly the size of Charlotte - could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

So far so good. I think most Americans are convinced that Gaddafi is a bad man and a tyrant. Getting rid of him seems reasonable from a humanitarian point of view. That brings to mind two objections though: why intervene in Libya and not elsewhere, and what is the US plan for a post-Gaddafi Libya? In other words, it is not enough just to remove Gaddafi from power. We need to be sure that the country that emerges does not cause instability in the region and that those who claim power are actually better for Gaddafi. Obama had a decent explanation for why intervening in some countries was justified even when we cannot intervene in all.

What did Obama have to say about Libya after Gaddafi? Not much. He said that the US will hand over control of the operation to NATO on Wednesday. This sort of absolves him of the ability to give us a plan for Libya’s future. What I did not see though, was and end-game for the NATO operation. How will NATO ensure that post-Gaddafi Libya gets off to a good start? How can we be sure that the government that emerges will be better than that which was left behind? These questions were left unanswered.

In the end, I think Obama probably did a good job of increasing public support for his Libya intervention by making a powerful case against Gaddafi. But in the end, I am still not completely clear on the objectives. One part of the speech stands out:

Of course, there is no question that Libya - and the world - will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

Earlier in the speech, Obama says that Libya will remain dangerous as long as

Gaddafi remains in power. But what if non-military means (ie sanctions and political pressure) fail? After all, non-military means did not work with Saddam Hussein and he eventually was removed from power only by an invasion. If Gaddafi remains in power despite these non-military measures, then we have emboldened other dictators and made the situation in Libya no better. What is Obama prepared to do if non-military measures fail? That is perhaps the biggest question left.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why do Christians Oppose Pre-Marital Sex? Part 2

I promised a sequel to my first post about Christians and premarital sex. So here it is! In this post, I will consider the theological reasons many Christians oppose premarital sex.

These theological reasons have to do with the Bible. So the important question becomes, what does the Bible have to say about premarital sex? There are several passages cited in favor of the idea that the Bible prohibits premarital sex. One comes from the Song of Solomon: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” By itself, this passage does little to prohibit premarital sex. Perhaps two people feel that love is truly ready to be awakened by having sex prior to their wedding day.

There are several passages that condemn sexual immorality. One is: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5). Another is “I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.” (Corinthians 12:21) Of course, that leaves one to wonder what constitutes sexual morality since the passage does not explicitly tell us. It is hard to see the Apostle Paul or Christ approving of one-night stands to be sure, but would two people in a committed relationship who are not married and who are monogamous be engaging in immorality by having sex? It is hard to know because premarital sex is never mentioned; homosexuality, adultery, and even sons sleeping with their mothers are, by contrast.

A catch-all passage is “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body," (1 Cor. 6:19-20).” Essentially this passage tells us that believers are not to do anything which God would disapprove of. Many times, people have sex more out of impulse or physical desire than out of love. As I stated earlier, it is hard to envision God approving of hook-ups rampant in fraternity basements or one-night-stands. But again, what about the couple who is committed to each other and genuinely feels like they are in love? Are they really dishonoring God?

We know that the Bible does not approve of casual sex. The apostle Paul endorses marriage, but only so that people will not be consumed by passion. In other words, it would be better for people to marry so they do not spend all of their time thinking about sex or seeking their next partner. This is the best evidence I see for a prohibition on premarital sex. Constantly thinking about/engaging in sex outside of marriage is sinful, which is the reason why Paul condones sex within the bounds of marriage.

Of course, in addition to the theological case against sex, Christians make a practical case, which I covered here. What do you think? Does the Bible prohibit premarital sex?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Gadson Review's Take on Libya

After weeks of trying to decide what to do, President Obama has gone to war. He has backed a “no-fly zone” and has called Gadhafi a tyrant whom he cannot sit idly by and allow to murder innocent civilians. As of now, French and British planes are primarily the ones dropping bombs on Libya to get government forces to stop attacking rebel strongholds. This has all been done with Obama’s backing.

Outside intervention strikes me as quite risky. First, there is the possibility that Gadhafi will hang onto power. The US and its allies may well decide not to launch a ground invasion to minimize casualties. Although Gadhafi would have to stop attacking the rebels, he might be able to negotiate a cease-fire and some kind of arrangement that allows him to stay on as leader. Western interventions do not always cause dictators to leave office. Slobodan Milosevic holding onto power in Serbia is a good example of that. If this happens, the West will be seen to have failed, and revolutionaries in the Middle East will wonder if the West will actually be able to help them if they revolt. Even worse, western leaders will have to live with the fact that bombing caused civilian casualties.

Perhaps intervening will even make it more likely for Gadhafi to remain in power. He will be able to claim that the rebels are pawns of meddling foreigners and turn public opinion among those on the sidelines against the rebels.

Second, ousting Gadhafi could be longer and harder than expected. The allies might have to launch a ground invasion, which would entail a substantial cost both in money and lives. This comes at a time when western nations’ budgets are stretched too thin as is, and when they have lost some appetite for foreign adventures because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ultimate end game most observers envision is a stable democracy. If Iraq is any guide, that will take some time.

Lastly, there could be a power vacuum once Gadhafi is gone. All those who have been shut out for so long will want a chance to hold power, and may resort to violence to get it. This would lead to a civil war that would arguably be worse than allowing even someone as bad as Gadhafi to stay in power.

In any of these scenarios, Obama will gain nothing politically. Conservatives who wanted Obama to intervene will fault him for not “winning” the war. Humanitarian liberals will fault him for not stopping the bloodshed. Budget hawks will accuse him of digging a bigger hole for US finances with foreign adventurism. Voters of all stripes may well feel that he went into war without an exit strategy, something Senator Obama faulted President Bush for in Iraq.

Obama will be criticized for letting the French and British take the lead in the operation. Some conservatives will say he is allowing foreigners to be the ones standing up for liberty and freedom while the US stands meekly at the side. He will be portrayed as weak and indecisive. In the final analysis though, perhaps Obama was right to allow the Europeans such a prominent role.

Right now, the US is busy fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both of these are critical to US national security and international standing. If the US can get Iraq and Afghanistan right, it will have made two viable democracies in the Middle East which fight Islamic extremism and ally with the US. By contrast, failing in those two countries would not only put trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to waste, it would cause the rest of the world to truly question American power. It would make friends and allies immediately more skeptical of future US efforts at nation-building and democracy promotion. Simply put, the US cannot afford to be the world’s sole policeman. Even a superpower can benefit from having friends pitch in.

It is difficult to say how Libya will turn out in the end. It is easy to say however, that potential costs are great.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Will the Tea Party Succeed?

Just last fall, the Tea Party was ascendant. It elected scores of new members to Congress, and many Americans had a favorable impression of it. Yet whatever the Tea Party’s political success recently, it looks as if most Americans reject its policy of dramatically reining in government including programs like Medicare and Medicaid. 76% of Americans for example oppose reducing Medicare benefits. This means that even a substantial number of Republicans want to spare the program cuts.

At first glance, this is a bit surprising. Americans disapprove of the enormous federal deficit and say they want something done about it. Indeed, the consequences of not having a credible plan to address the deficit in the next few years could be devastating for the economy in the next few years. Wouldn’t Americans then support cutting Medicare and Social Security since they are such big drivers of the deficit?

As a Bloomberg study found, many voters have misperceptions of what programs contribute to the federal deficit. In fact, seven in ten voters think that foreign aid is a major government program when it reality it consumes about 1% of the federal budget. Of course, it is hard to blame voters alone for this. For decades, politicians have pledged that they will balance the budget. But too many claim that they will simply make government more efficient, or stamp out “waste, fraud, and abuse.” The upshot is that they can claim to be deficit hawks while sparing their constituents major pain. To the extent that they do target certain programs, it is easier to go after those that disproportionately benefit the poor—voters who have less power in our political system than the middle class or the wealthy.

I think this latest poll could have interesting implications for the 2012 race. For example, Mitch Daniels is being talked up a lot by pundits for his message of austerity and his record of cutting government spending in Indiana. He is probably one of the top contenders for the nomination. But if voters are still averse to spending cuts that will affect them, how well will his message really play? In fact, it could be a disaster. If the economy is improving and Obama produces a credible plan to reduce the deficit without altering Medicare and Social Security as much as Daniels wants, Democrats will have a field day. Daniels would appear heartless and out of touch. He might be susceptible to losing as badly as Walter Mondale or George McGovern, two men perceived as outside the mainstream.

This means that Daniel’s strategy of calling a truce on social issues may not be the best one. With centrists and moderates unlikely to support drastic changes to entitlements, the Republican nominee would need a strong turnout from the base to have a chance of winning. This would mean that social conservatives would need to be genuinely excited about Daniels in a way that they are not currently. Given this, perhaps the strongest nominee Republicans can muster would be someone like Huckabee who could get a big turnout from important evangelical voters.

If voters support deficit reduction only in theory, then it is conceivable that the same could be true for candidates who make their biggest issue the deficit.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why do Christians Oppose Pre-Marital Sex?

In many pulpits this Sunday, pastors will preach about the sanctity of marriage. One of the things some will mention is the need for Christians to refrain from premarital sex. Some evidence suggests that this is one teaching many young Christians (as well as their secular counterparts) simply are not following. It is worth considering why Christians have this teaching in the first place.

There are both practical and theological arguments advanced. In this post, I will consider the practical ones. Even today, sex carries with it the risk of disease and unintended pregnancy. AIDS for example, is prevalent in parts of Africa. Even in America and other industrialized western nations, there is no shortage of new cases of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis or chlamydia. Each year in the US alone, about 800,000 teenagers become pregnant without wanting to. This is in a day and age with condoms and birth control pills. Historically, there were none of these, so the risks of careless sex were even higher. Seen in this light, the prohibition on premarital sex was one way a loving God sought to keep people healthy. Today though, with modern birth control methods, many wonder if the same goals couldn’t be accomplished by providing better access to birth control.

Another argument is that not having premarital sex facilitates marital fidelity. If young people can keep from having sex despite their raging hormones and can build some self-discipline, they will be better able to resist temptation in marriage. They will remember that they went years without impulsively having sex at a time when their sex drives were at their highest, and then be able to summon the ability to turn down an offer of sex from someone they’re attracted to. This becomes even more plausible if they were in a long term relationship with the person they married and refrained from having sex. If they could say no to the person they loved, won’t they be able to say no to someone they simply have a temporary infatuation with?

Lastly, premarital sex opponents believe that sex is an extremely personal act with the ability to bring two people closer together. If both partners have had sex with a lot of people though, perhaps there is the risk that they will worry about how they measure up to previous sex partners at a time when they should simply focus on experiencing a profound expression of love. Such comparisons could only make sex less enjoyable. So perhaps, pastors asking young people not to have sex are really asking them to make a choice that leads to the most fulfilling sex life in the end. This again could be evidence of a loving God trying to ensure that those who follow him have the happiest lives possible.

Moreover, sex is generally considered as the highest form of intimacy a couple can have. It is the way two married partners express their love for each other. Most people still frown upon adultery--when a married person has sex with someone other than his partner--because they feel in some sense that sex is evidence of a unique bond that only a married couple can share. If the two spouses have had sex with lots of previous partners though, can the couple actually enjoy a highest form of intimacy that sets their relationship apart from the other relationships they have had? In other words, since both husband and wife have had sex previously, is sex evidence of the unique bond they share? If sex cannot be evidence of such a bond, then how can two people show affection to each other in a unique way?

But the minute Christians make practical arguments for the teaching on premarital sex, they invite interesting responses. Specifically, what does the teaching on premarital sex do for church membership? A lot of young people might feel that an absolute ban on premarital sex is unrealistic and prudish. They may well shy away from churches where they listen to what they perceive to be lectures on their sex lives. If they don’t go to church, they can’t get the message on salvation or the need of following Christ. That raises an interesting question: does prohibiting premarital sex diminish the number of souls the church can save?

By extension, does prohibiting premarital sex diminish the moral influence of Christians in society? If people assume that Christian morality is a relic of a time long past, will they listen when the church tries to push for a more just or more “Christian” society? They may not even be tuning in.

None of that matters though, if the theological case against premarital sex is solid. Here there is a lively debate centering on history and theology that I will consider later. For Christians, what the Bible has to say will win the day over practical considerations. I look forward to writing a post in the near future about the theological basis for the prohibition on premarital sex.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is Mitt Romney Really the Republican Frontrunner?

Despite the fact that no candidate has officially entered the race for the Republican nomination for President, some commentators and party insiders are anointing Mitt Romney as the front-runner. I am surprised that anyone thinks there is a frontrunner in the Republican race, or if there is, why it is Romney.

Romney’s only advantage that I can think of his is his ability to dip into his substantial pockets. This means he will be able to run plenty of ads and build a strong organization. But there are other plausible Republicans who can raise lots of money such as Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, and Newt Gingrich. So the ability to raise money does not really set Romney apart. Neither do his management credentials. Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels can claim to have cut their state’s spending and made government more responsive and efficient.

Contrast this with the several disadvantages Romney has. Perhaps the biggest was his support of a healthcare scheme in Massachusetts that had an individual mandate. In a way, Romney’s fate is tied to the popularity of Obamacare, which is currently low among Republicans and independents. At several points in the campaign, Romney will be forced to defend or repudiate his law. This becomes even tougher when court decisions are added in. When decisions come out claiming that the mandate is unconstitutional. Romney will be asked point blank “do you think Obamacare’s mandate is constitutional.” If he says no, he will be at odds with the tea party grassroots of his party. If he says “yes,” the inevitable follow up question would be why he ever supported a law that was unconstitutional.

He will no doubt promise to appoint conservative “strict-constructionist judges” of the sort who will be most likely to find the mandate unconstitutional. How can he square his support for judges whose rulings will bring about more limited government with his support for a healthcare plan that can be described as anything but limited government?

He can change positions and reinforce his image as a slick politician or continue supporting the law and run afoul of movement conservatives. Romney’s healthcare plan alone poses several challenges to his candidacy. If he is lucky enough to make it to the general election, one of the Republicans’ most potent issues will be nullified. It is easy to see Obama saying “When considering how to reform healthcare, I looked at a lot of different models. I thought yours was the best.”

Then there are his flip-flops on social issues. Romney was pro-choice before he was pro-life. He was pro-gay rights before he was against them. These changes of heart—however genuine they might be—will always cause the evangelicals who dominate the Iowa caucus and South Carolina primary to wonder if Romney is really one of them. This problem is only compounded by Romney’s Mormonism which some of these voters consider a cult.

Romney cannot contend that he is uniquely electable. Even though he was Governor of Massachusetts, he neither sought nor won a second term. During the Democratic wave year of 2006, there is a good chance that he in fact would have lost. Few remember that when he decided not to run, he had a scant 34% approval rating and that he trailed potential Democratic rivals in polls. It is hard to see Romney delivering Massachusetts to Republicans or any other state in the northeast for that matter.

During the 2008 primaries, Romney struggled with working class voters. This was for any number of reasons: his flip-flops, a high net worth that made it hard for the average American to relate, and a communication style at times more suited to a Wall Street boardroom than the campaign trail. These working class voters will likely be swing voters in 2012 assuming that the economy has improved somewhat but still has a ways to go. Wouldn’t a Tim Pawlenty or Mike Huckabee be better positioned to do well with those voters?

Romney may well be the frontrunner now. If he is, then his road will be the toughest any frontrunner has faced in sometime.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Plea for Religious Tolerance in the Bible Belt

This blog was dedicated at the outset to covering both politics and religion. Yet I've neglected to write much about religion recently. Today, I want to start making up for that oversight by providing an interesting perspective on religion that has been seldom offered on this blog. The post poses a challenge to how many Americans think of religion. I can guarantee that it will be worth your time. Without further ado...

Hello Gadson Review readers!

First, a thank you to Marcus himself for his continuous brilliantly stated insight into the current state of the world’s politics. A second thank you to Marcus for letting me invade with my own $0.02.

Clearly, Marcus is an expert on politics, including the numerous tangents that the subject brings. This will be a bit of a departure from politics, delving into the realm of religion, which for me, always stirs interesting perspectives.

Where Marcus and I live is in the heart of the Bible belt. There are signs everywhere that say “Jesus.” When I first arrived in the Delta and saw these in peoples’ yards, I thought there were so many people trying to express their frustrations in the world. I could just imagine people saying “Oh, I had such a bad day. Jesus.” People couldn’t actually be serious with those, right? Boy was I wrong. So that led to a fascinating investigation on the mentality of religion and philosophy. I was born and raised in a Buddhist household, which I believe is much more a way of living life than it is a centralized religion. What Buddhism teaches is how to rid yourself of any misery, any sorrow, any suffering, and to live a truly happy life. Of course, there are much more sophistications to the teachings than I am expressing here, but this is the general underlying philosophy. It is a universal language that we can all speak, and thus reminds me that we’re all equals in this world: we all suffer, and we are all trying to find a way out of it. Most of the time, Buddhists find this in meditation and learning from the different Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ teachings: nothing is permanent, for change is the only constant.

But I get sideways looks for being different. Do Buddhists believe in God? Why don’t Buddhists believe in God? As a matter of fact, Deltans, I do believe in God, but in a different sense. I believe that there is a God in everyone, that everyone has the power to have unconditional love for each other, the wholesome goodness and purity of the heart, and the power to change the world. For Buddhists, everyone and anyone can become a God (or a Buddha/Bodhisattva). It requires a lot of work (over many lifetimes of reincarnation, which is another subject for discussion at a later time), but it is possible. So, there are such things as Christian Buddhists. Or Catholic Buddhists. Or just Buddhists.

Thus, I challenge the Deltans of the world to look into the greater philosophy of the world, look past the sign in the front lawn that declares a dedication to only one inspirational person, and put that dedication into each and every being. It’s amazing what we would all be able to see: the beauty in everyone and everything.

Margaret Mou, guest writer. 3/6/2011.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Obama and the Middle East Protests

Scarcely a day goes by without reports of another Arab country in open rebellion against its leaders. A narrative has emerged which says that Obama has been entirely too passive in the face of this momentous opportunity to encourage democracy in the Middle East. Other commentators have accused Obama as being typically weak-kneed. However, this criticism is unfair, at least to a large extent.

Most outside observers wish to see these countries develop into democracies. Yet, America becoming visibly associated with Democratic protest movements in the Middle East at a time when America is unpopular in that region is not the best policy. Indeed, America is not much more popular there than it was during the Bush administration. A majority of Arabs are discouraged about American policy in the region, and a majority thinks a nuclear Iran would be a good thing.

President Obama had a few options here, all of which had their own shortcomings. First, he could have spoken out strongly in favor of protests at the outset. But as I have already demonstrated, he would conflated democratic protesters with an unpopular American government in the region and very likely hurt the protesters in the eyes of Arabs sitting on the fence.

More importantly, speaking out strongly and demanding that leaders step down without concrete actions would arguably have made the US look weak. Many observers would then say that when the US says a leader should step down, it will not back its demands up. As it happens, Obama has taken concrete measures. He has imposed sanctions on Gadhafi.

Second, Obama could have sent in American troops to topple regimes to insure a democratic transition. But it would not be enough simply to deploy soldiers to dislodge the dictators. The US would need a plan for the aftermath. Occupations, unless they are exceptionally short, are never simple. The US would need a plan to build up basic infrastructure and institutions and fight terrorists so a new government can inherit a reasonably stable situation. That could well take years and a substantial investment of money and resources. Do fiscal conservatives really want to spend money on overseas adventures? Would it be prudent when the US is already fighting in Afghanistan?

This all ignores the most important question of all: is a democracy in the Middle East in our interests? Interestingly, several conservative critics of the administration have concluded that it is not, at least not at present. Dick Cheney for example believes that the US should have stood by Hosni Mubark in Egypt. Thomas Sowell is also skeptical of democracy in the Middle East, writing:

The fact that Egyptians or others in the Middle East and elsewhere want freedom does not mean that they are ready for freedom. Everyone wants freedom for himself. Even the Nazis wanted to be free to be Nazis. They just didn't want anybody else to be free.

There is very little sign of tolerance in the Middle East, even among fellow Muslims with different political or religious views, and all too many signs of gross intolerance toward people who are not Muslims.

Freedom and democracy cannot be simply conferred on anyone. Both have preconditions, and even nations that are free and democratic today took centuries to get there.

It is possible to see how democracies in these countries could be hostile to US interests. Since so many Arabs have negative views of the US, any elected leadership would have to echo these sentiments, at least to some extent. This could mean fewer basing rights in Arab countries for US soldiers or less help fighting terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. It could also mean that regimes that tacitly tolerated Israel will have to become virulently anti-Israel in their policies to satisfy a public that disdains Israel and Jews in general all too often.

Perhaps the US would benefit from being seen to support a move to democracy. Arabs might feel as if the US is working to protect their human rights and dignity and as a result form governments friendly to American interests. However that is at all clear. The right course of action now is hard to discern amid so many options and possibilities. If President Obama has vacillated during the uprisings, it is because there was so much to consider.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chris Christie's Logic on Education

Governors in states across the country are fighting with public sector unions. Chris Christie, the combative Governor of New Jersey was one of the first to gain prominence last year by taking on his state’s teachers’ union. He proposed freezing salaries and increasing the amount teachers were required to contribute to their healthcare. A common routine he does stuck out:

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

Sure, the rhetoric from the teacher’s union is hyperbolic here. And it is certainly unlikely that students come home complaining about their teacher’s increased healthcare costs. But the fact that children don’t come home to their parents and complain about certain policies that are enacted is insufficient grounds to believe that the policy has no negative implications. I doubt second graders went home in distress about excessive use of leverage at Lehman brothers, or the proliferation of sub-prime mortgages. It is inconceivable that those students would have raised a peep when the glass-steagal act (which mandated a separation between investment banking and normal banking) was repealed. Yet in all of these cases, it is at least arguable that the things in question had negative effects for the economy.

Granted, Christie most likely means this at least partly in jest (one hopes). So let’s consider his implicit assumption that restraining or reducing teacher compensation doesn’t constitute an assault on education, and that it actually will not have a demonstrable effect on educational outcomes. This is hard to believe, particularly for challenging rural and inner-city school environments. These are schools where the stakes are highest because of achievement gaps between poor minorities and wealthier whites. Putting effective teachers in the classroom would be a solution.

Indeed, Los Angeles found that providing top-quartile teachers as opposed to bottom-quartile teachers for four years in a row would actually eliminate the achievement gap.

Of course, kids in challenging schools are not likely to get these teachers. One way to attract such teachers would be to offer better compensation including strong benefits. When pay is frozen and benefits slashed, teachers who already feel like they have challenging jobs might look elsewhere for employment, especially if they have other skills or credentials. Perhaps the biggest risk is that talented young people thinking of careers will choose not to become teachers when they see that compensation (already low relative to other professions) will go still lower. That raises the very real possibility that High School students in certain parts of the country might go home to their parents saying “Our school couldn’t find a certified physics teacher. It looks like I won’t be able to take that class this year.”

In short, I think Christie’s assessment of his proposed actions on education deserve a more sober and less slapstick treatment.