You think I've been hard on Republicans today? Pat Powers is so disgusted with his fellow Republicans that he interrupted his usual lazy Sunday press releases to write his own blog post to blast Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge) and Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) for exposing the vile, selfish thoughtlessness that having an R in front of one's name excuses in South Dakota:

How does saying test anxiety is contributing to a disturbing suicide rate encourage a young professional businessperson to run as a Republican candidate for office when asked? When going door to door, how does saying “Planned Parenthood is beheading children people like ISIS terrorists” convince people that helping Republicans get elected is a worthwhile cause?

The answer is that they don’t. They’re just incendiary bombs being lobbed for the sole purpose of getting personal attention. And of course they’re going to get attention. They’re over the top, offensive and just plain stupid. And all that attention comes at the expense of all the other Republicans who are trying to do the difficult job of governing, and are now at risk of being painted with the same broad crazy brush by Democrats and the media who look for these opportunities.

Everytime I read that kind of things, I find myself asking “For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand.” If you feel the need to say something offensive and incendiary, sleep on it first. Bounce it off of a colleague for a read on how it sounds [Pat Powers, "For crying out loud, please stop damaging the Republican brand. (And maybe sleep on it before you say it.)" Dakota War College, 2015.03.01].

Oh, Pat, you and your "brand." May and Latterell aren't "damaging" the South Dakota Republican brand; they are the logical product of the very Republicanism you peddle. They ooze Republican anti-intellectualism. They throw whatever they've got at their opponents. They say vile falsehoods to arouse their base, then assume they can wave the flag or hit Delete and make us all forget. May and (more so) Latterell are Republicans straight out of a Dakota War College lesson plan.

Because May and Latterell are products of the politics he practices, Powers can't issue a simple, uncategorical rejection of their errors. Powers still couches his critique in language about Democrats and the media that make it sound like we are to blame for talking about what Republican legislators say and do in Pierre. "Broad crazy brush"? Hey, if crazy Republicans were just the trim, I could use my narrow brush. But with Reps. Craig and Stalzer disrespecting students who beat their gun bill with smart lobbying, with Rep. Stalzer dissing cops, and with former Noem intern Tomi Lahren calling Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren men (why? why?!?), the "crazy" folks aren't the trim; they are the siding. I can paint all day with the biggest brush I've got and still not cover all the rank idiocy that South Dakota Republicans put out.

(Note: Powers has yet to critique Craig, Stalzer, or Lahren for saying things that hurt the GOP "brand".)

South Dakota Democratic Party chair Ann Tornberg, at whom Powers has regularly thrown mud, agrees with his assessment of Latterell's irresponsible headline-scoring. She sends out this comment appended to Huffington Post's coverage of Latterell's equation of Planned Parenthood and ISIS:

Our politics are cheapened when extreme GOP legislators resort to demagoguery to score headlines. No matter your position on issues like life and choice, South Dakotans deserve better than this kind of hateful rhetoric [Ann Tornberg, SDDP e-mail, 2015.03.01].

Tornberg is party chair; she has as much interest in promoting her party's brand as Powers does his. But for Tornberg, panning Latterell's comments is about respecting all South Dakotans and resisting demagoguery and hateful rhetoric. For Powers, it's just damage control, throwing a couple fellow Republicans overboard for fouling the party's effort to conceal its inherent extremism behind a marketing curtain.

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I'd love to see the state and the education establishment abandon Common Core and similar exercises in faux-accountability and paperwork. But that won't happen with opponents claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids:

We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week. We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it, because the kids can't do it [Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), remarks on House Bill 1223, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 21:12].

At this point, Speaker Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) interrupted Rep. May to pull her back to the motion at hand, which was not the Common Core-repealing House Bill 1223 itself but the question of whether to place HB 1223 on the calendar for debate. Even if the House had allowed that debate to happen, the suggestion that Common Core leads to Indian youth suicide sounds more like a high school debate nuke-war disad (the classic argument that demonstrates that any federal policy change leads to mushroom clouds) than a useful legislative contention.

Suicide is a serious problem for our Native neighbors. The Pine Ridge Reservation has had waves of youth suicides since well before the adoption of Common Core. Dr. Delphine Red Shirt says the despair driving these suicides comes from the culture of fear imposed imposed by colonialism. Maybe we could make the argument that imposing Western rationalist curriculum standards on Indian reservations is one aspect of colonialism. But with the Department of Education warning that repealing Common Core would only require implementing new (Western rationalist) standards, and with Common Core opponents suggesting new standards, the colonialism critique doesn't get us anywhere on HB 1223.

But Rep. May wasn't making that deep critique. She seems to have been colonializing her Indian neighbors again, exploiting their pain to advance her political goal of the moment. This one ill-considered rhetorical tactic only weakened her position, opening education policy critics to ridicule from the national press, which lump her suicide claim in with other wild accusations made by Common Core opponents.

The Huffington Post lets Rep. May try to explain herself:

May clarified her comments for The Huffington Post, noting that, “Our suicide rate keeps increasing on the [Pine Ridge] reservation, our kids are under a lot of distress socially and economically.”

Indeed, the suicide rates of Native youth are disproportionately high around the country.

May further said she thinks the Common Core State Standards put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Very simple, testing, testing testing. They have to teach to the test. You know and I know and every teacher in the trenches on the reservation know it,” wrote May in an email. “It never is about children and teachers it's about a bureaucracy.”

“There’s kids who just won't go to school," she added over the phone. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children. We see it more in the depressed areas of our country. Not all children learn the same. We can't put everybody inside a box, it doesn’t work."

The Common Core State Standards do not necessarily increase amounts of standardized testing, but tests aligned with the standards have been noted for their rigor [Rebecca Klein, "South Dakota Legislator Suggests Common Core Contributed To Kids' Deaths," Huffington Post, 2015.02.27].

We can dismantle Rep. May's elaboration on straight logic:

  1. "Our suicide rate keeps increasing" indicates the problem has arisen from and will continue as a result of other factors. HB 1223 would not have solved.
  2. "too much emphasis on standardized testing" has been a critique of every standards movement (remember No Child Left Behind?). HB 1223 would have left the testing regime in place.
  3. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children"—then why did Rep. May's remarks on the House floor Tuesday talk about suicide among Indian children? Is there a spate of white youth suicides induced by Common Core that Rep. May left unmentioned? This comment sounds like Rep. May realizing she'd made a weak claim and trying to move the debate to a different topic.

We could beat back Common Core and other centralized intrusions on the art of good teaching with better, more practical arguments. Claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids only invites ridicule that prevents good arguments from being heard.

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