Sunday, August 7, 2005

A British teachers’ union official recently proposed an end to “failing” students on exams. Instead of “failing” grades, she said pupils would be given a “deferred success.”

Oh, sure, you can scoff. But evidently the system is being piloted-tested in Howard Dean’s Democratic Party. That’s why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hailed its electoral failure in last week’s Ohio special election as a triumphant “deferred success.” Its press release said:

“In nearly the biggest political upset in recent history, Democrat Paul Hackett came within just a few thousand votes of defeating Republican Jean Schmidt in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District.” Yes, indeed. It was “nearly the biggest political upset in recent history,” which is another way of saying it was actually the smallest political nonupset in recent history.

Paul Hackett was like a fast-forward rerun of the Kerry campaign. He was a veteran of the Iraq war, but he was anti-war, but he made solemn dignified patriotic commercials featuring respectful footage of President Bush and artfully neglecting to mention the candidate was a Democrat. But in livelier campaign venues he dismissed Mr. Bush as a “son-ofabitch” and a “chickenhawk” who was “un-American” for questioning his patriotism.

And as usual this nearly winning strategy lost yet again — this time to a weak Republican candidate with a lot of problematic baggage. As far as I understand, the official Democratic narrative is that George Bush is a moron who has nevertheless managed to steal two elections.

Big deal. Up against this crowd, that looks like petty larceny. After the Ohio vote, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg declared “one of the biggest doubts about Democrats is that they don’t stand for anything.” That might have passed muster two years ago. Alas, the party’s real problem is that increasingly there’s no doubt whatsoever about it.

Fortunately, the Dems have found a new line of attack to counter the evil election-stealing moron. A few days ago, a Democratic National Committee press release attacked Mr. Bush for being physically fit. It seems his physical fitness comes at the expense of the nation’s lardbutt youth. Or as the DNC put it:

“While President Bush has made physical fitness a personal priority, his cuts to education funding have forced schools to roll back physical education classes and his administration’s efforts to undermine Title IX sports programs have threatened thousands of women’s college sports programs.”

Wow. I noticed my gal had put on a few pounds, but I had no idea it was Mr. Bush’s fault. That sonofabitch chickenhawk. Just for the record, “his cuts to education funding” are cuts only in the sense Mr. Hackett’s had a tremendous victory in the Ohio election: That’s to say, Mr. Bush’s “cuts to education funding” are in fact a roughly 50 percent increase in federal education funding.

Some of us wish he had cut education funding. By any rational measure, a good third of public school expenditures are completely wasted. But instead it has skyrocketed.

And the idea Mr. Bush is heartlessly pursuing an elite leisure activity denied to millions of American schoolchildren takes a bit of swallowing given that his preferred fitness activity is running. “Running” requires two things: you and ground. Short of buying every schoolkid some John Kerry $1,000 electric-yellow buttock-hugging Lycra singlet, it’s hard how “running” requires increasing federal funding.

Perhaps America could have a running czar or a National Running Commission to report on the need for a Cabinet-level runner-general. Perhaps Title IX needs to be expanded to provide a federal sneaker subsidy — a woman’s right to shoes.

But I don’t think so. Sitting behind yet another Vermont granolamobile bearing the bumper sticker “Bush Scares Me,” I found myself thinking perhaps the easiest way to reduce American childhood obesity might just to be to shout out, “Look! There’s big scary Bush. Run. Run for your lives. No, wait, there’s John Bolton, too. Better cut through the park before he puts his hands on his hips in an aggressive manner.” Indeed, when yesterday’s coming man John Edwards dusts off his “Two Americas” stump speech — the one with the heartwarming Dickensian vignette about the shivering girl whose parents can’t afford to buy her a winter coat ($9.99 brand new from Wal-Mart) — he might want to add a section about how an easy way for shivering coatless girls to keep warm is to run around the block a couple of times.

Speaking of shivering coatless girls in George Bush’s America, spare a thought for the underprivileged urchins of the Bronx. The Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club, a nonprofit New York social-services organization, receives millions of dollars in government funds to give disadvantaged youth in poor neighborhoods a leg up the ladder of life. But mysteriously, much of the money wound up diverted to the coffers of Air America, the liberal talk-radio network whose ratings are yet another example of “deferred success.” The needs of disadvantaged Al Franken and his pals apparently outweigh those of Bronx welfare recipients.

Perhaps Janeane Garofalo is the coatless girl John Edwards was talking about all those months. Air America looks like the broadcast version of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program. Money to save starving moppets somehow ends up in the accounts of bloated, politically connected self-described do-gooders.

The DNC’s George-Bush-is-the-reason-your-kid-is-fat press release is a convenient precis of the party’s problem: While Mr. Bush runs rings around them, the Dems lounge about getting flabbier and saying it’s all his fault they can barely move except to complain about his Supreme Court nominee’s kid being too cute. What’s the betting for 2006? The Dems will have a few more “nearly the biggest political upsets,” while Republicans get the actual political upsets — a couple more Senate seats, including Robert C. Byrd’s venerable perch in West Virginia?

Republicans may see the increasingly arthritic, corpulent, wheezing, flatulent Democratic Party as a boon for them, but I don’t. Two-party systems need two parties, not just for the health of the loser but for that of the winner, too. Intellectually, philosophically and legislatively, it’s hard to maintain the discipline to keep yourself in shape when the other guy just lies around the house all day.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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