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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Post-election musings

On election night, I came back from rehearsal (for "The Education of Mister Scrooge," by the Front Range Theatre Company) and checked Douglas County's website. I saw that Amendments 60/61 and Proposition 101 were going down overwhelmingly. Given Douglas County's conservative bent, I figured that was decisive, and went to bed. As it happens, of course, the measures were defeated in every single county in the state by close to 70%.

There were lots of reasons for that defeat. Among them was the good work done by many librarians on their own personal time. Aspen Walker, a librarian who happens to work as my assistant, made a major contribution in her Bad3Bad4Libraries effort.

The defeat of the measures was good in many ways. Yet I woke up mildly depressed. A few days later, I realized why. I've been involved in three elections in four years (2007 and 2008 for the library, and in opposition to the Bad 3 this year). The first two lost. The success of this one did nothing but avert disaster. It doesn't offer anything new or good. And it was a lot of work.

As I've written many times, it would be wrong to say that every tax increase is justified. But it is also false to say that no tax increase is justified. The reflexive use of "reduce taxes" as a catchphrase, as an unquestioned good by conservatives and liberals both, is a threat to the nation and our communities. Government, ultimately, is nothing more than a cooperative purchasing agreement. It is a remarkably inexpensive way to buy many necessary products and services.

I would like to think that a combination of factors - Doug Bruce's sneaky sponsorship of these deceptive measures and the growing awareness that the dismantling of the public infrastructure would have profound consequences in the private sector - provides an opening to have a new discussion altogether. That conversation is about synergy, about the fundamental connection between public and private sectors.

I heard an interview on NPR with Texas Governor Rick Perry, talking about his new book "Fed Up!" Perry was reciting the usual talking points: the light hand of taxation and regulation in Texas meant that the state was a wonderful and diverse place to live, with a strong economy, a place where people really valued their liberties. Steve Inskeep cited an article in Economist that was most complimentary about Texas, whose strong revenues from oil and gas did indeed lead to an economy ahead of many other states. But then Inskeep voiced a truly incisive insight: when it came to poverty, high school drop-out rates, and violent crime, Texas was one of the worst in the United States. Was it fair to say, asked Inskeep, that Texas citizens were willing to trade out the social safety net for a cheaper tax rate?

Perry responded that because people had more money in their pockets, because the states are hotbeds of experimentation and freedom, they could solve these challenges.

But of course, they haven't. The evidence of their policy is plain. Do you really save money if you don't invest in education, but do invest in prisons? What, finally, does such freedom come down to: the freedom to be poor? The freedom to be ignorant? The freedom to be incarcerated?

As long as we persist in thinking it's one or the other - total socialism or total capitalism - we perpetuate collisions and conflict that obscure the real issues. It seems to me that that issue is more about short term versus long term viability.

So I have a lot to think about. But in the meantime, today's intellectual and political climate makes me tired. It may be time for a vacation, for a little rejuvenation.

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