7,000 Very Annoyed People

Yesterday, the National Association of Bilingual Educators concluded its 2001 annual national convention in Phoenix on a somewhat desperate note. As indicated in the front page Arizona Republic story below, the 7,000 participants were implored to contribute the millions of dollars deemed necessary to oppose the forthcoming statewide “English for the Children” campaigns in Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and elsewhere. The overwhelming vote just four months ago to eliminate Spanish-almost-only instruction in the state hosting the NABE convention heightened the urgency of the appeal.

In principle, such fundraising pleas should have an excellent chance of success. I expect that America’s current multi-billion-dollar “bilingual education industry” covered the expenses of nearly all the attendees, and registration fees, airfare, and five nights of suggested hotel accommodations and incidentals must have pushed that total bill to well over $10 million. Presumably an industry willing to spend an eight-digit sum on annual self-celebration would be willing to shell out at least a comparable amount to defend its continued existence.

Whether such money will make much of a difference is quite another story. Our 1998 Prop. 227 initiative campaign in California was outspent some 25-to-1 in advertising, yet crushed its opponents by a 22 point margin. Our 2000 campaign for Prop. 203 in Arizona was also outspent nearly 10-to-1 in advertising, and raised its victory margin to 26 points. Political advertising follows the same basic rules as consumer advertising, and maintaining Spanish-almost-only “bilingual education” in our public schools fits the classic example of the dog-food that dogs just won’t eat.

“English” is hardly alone in this regard. Although in recent years, perceptions have grown that money and paid political advertising dominate or even determine election results, actual evidence for this thesis is very mixed at best. The main advocates for money-power have been the elite class of paid media consultants and political fundraisers whose personal income derives from a fixed percentage of the campaign money raised and spent. Candidates have been encouraged to transform themselves into mere fund-raising vehicles, simple pipelines that passively transmit cash between donor and consultant bank accounts.

Today, a highly successful candidate is not an individual who articulates important policy issues or even who manages to win on election day, but merely someone who succeeds in vacuuming up the most cash for his consultant puppet-masters. Thus, the recent voucher campaign in California—in which a naïve Internet multimillionaire parted with nearly $30 million of his personal fortune in order to achieve a 3-to-1 drubbing at the polls—was extraordinarily profitable, and therefore successful. Similarly, Al Checchi’s 1998 California gubernatorial campaign proved remarkably disastrous for the $40 million candidate but remarkably beneficial to his profiteers, who earned many millions in commissions for just a few months of very part-time work. Rick Lazio raised no substantive issues during his recent New York Senate race, but enough cash—about $40 million— to massively outspend his victorious opponent Hillary Clinton; as a result, Hillary got a Senate seat, Lazio’s consultant got a mansion, while Lazio himself got $3 million in debt to an army of creditors. Such is the nature of modern political warfare. The world of dot-com stock pitchmen seems remarkably honest by comparison.

Thus, I would encourage the leaders of our tottering bilingual education industry to follow the path of Al Checchi, Rick Lazio, and numerous others into expensive and humiliating political oblivion. The poetic justice of seeing one corrupt and profiteering industry ruthlessly devoured by another is quite heartening.

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