Snyder in Wonderland: Where More than the Talk is Backwards

As Governor Rick Snyder’s secret meetings with groups intent on defunding public education have come to light, it is reasonable to question his leadership abilities.   Ever since Snyder began listening to the Oxford Foundation, the pretentiously named anti-public education advocates, for advice on how to fund public education, the Governor lost all credibility on how our schools should be paid for.  As he continued his secret assault on public education by meeting with people who stand to profit from increased privatization and from vouchers, it got me to wondering where else the Governor was getting his advice.

I realized that it would not be an easy task to discover the inner workings of the self-proclaimed nerd’s network, so I called upon a laid off Lansing public school teacher who was fortunate enough to land a $9 an hour job as a janitor in the Governor’s office building.  How a former teacher and union thug was able to pass the background check to get that close to the Governor is something I’m sure his security staff will be pondering once this article gets published.  Nonetheless, “Carol” was reluctantly willing to help me figure out exactly how the Governor’s advice network was put together.  She begged me not to use her real name in order to avoid detection.  “If I get fired from here, the only thing left for me would be a $7.50 an hour teaching job in that new charter school they’re opening in Detroit.  This is humiliating enough.”

I arranged to meet Carol one evening after dinner at the back door of the Governor’s office.  Dressed as a trash collector, I slipped in through the kitchen and set about looking for clues.  Carol warned me that the Governor was indeed working that night and that I needed to be very careful.  “The Governor takes the idea of secret meetings very seriously.  I heard him comment once, ‘This democracy thing would be a lot better form of government if it weren’t for all the darn people who want a say.’”

I slipped off my trash collector uniform and changed into a three piece suit with a lapel button that read “Keep the PUBLIC out of EDUCATION” and wandered through the building acting as if I belonged.  As I walked by an office with the door slightly ajar, I heard the Governor chanting some rhyme.  I paused and slipped back toward the door so I see what was up.  In the far corner of his office, the Governor was standing in front of a full-length mirror and mumbling something I couldn’t quite hear.  He seemed preoccupied enough to allow me to slip into the room, being careful to avoid both his direct line of sight, and any reflection he might pick up.

A light flashed and the Governor stepped right into the mirror!  I didn’t have time to think about consequences as I dashed across the room and followed him through the mirror just as the opening was closing behind me.   I expected to see some fantastic distortions of reality with Cheshire Cats, Tweedle Dums, Kings, Queens, and the rest of the things I could remember from Alice in Wonderland, but what I saw was more like a scene from the post-modern classic “Brazil.”  I was in a dark gray corridor with doors on either side. As I carefully inched down the corridor, hoping to avoid detection until I could figure out what had happened to the Governor, I noticed each door was labeled with some general policy area.

I passed “Transportation” and “Prisons” before finding the door to “Bridges” wide open.  As I peered in the room, the Governor was standing at the head of a long table at which only one man was seated.  The Governor spoke:  “Well, Matty, what have you figured out on the new bridge?”  Were my eyes deceiving me?  Was that really Matty Maroun, the man who spent millions trying to defeat Proposal 6 last fall?  Maroun scowled at the Governor and declared that we didn’t need a new bridge.  When the Governor pointed out that not only had the people spoken, but that he had already announced plans for the new bridge, Maroun grumbled, “Well why are you asking for my advice anyway?”

The Governor explained that as part of his new, enlightened approach to politics, he was only going to seek advice from people who were against things.  “This way, I get a balanced view.  I already know why people are “for” things.  Talking to them is boring.” Maroun spat out some expletive that the Governor clearly didn’t appreciate as he left the room and turned right down the corridor.

By this time it was clear to me that either the Governor couldn’t see me, or if he did, didn’t seem to mind that I was following him down the hall.  He stopped at the next room labeled “Civil Rights.”  As he opened the door, we were met with a raucous argument spewing from the room.  I expected to see some of the state’s most important civil rights leaders, but instead seated around the table were several KKK members in full garb who were yelling at some red-faced men across the table sitting behind signs identifying them as members of the John Birch Society.  A broad smile came to the Governor’s face as he turned to acknowledge me for the first time.  “See, this is how policy should be made.   If I just listened to people who were FOR civil rights, how would I ever get ideas people weren’t already tired of?”

I felt emboldened to reply.  “But Governor, these people hate black people and other minorities.  What could they possibly do to improve civil rights in our state?”  He looked at me and said “Exactly.”

As he encouraged the men to keep up the good work, we crossed the hall and entered the room labeled “Civil Rights – Gay Rights.”  Surely I would see a variety of advocates for equality who opposed discrimination based on sexual orientation, but instead I saw Fred Phelps and his gang from the Westboro Baptist Church seated around the table and coloring in some more of those “God Hates Fags” signs.   Without saying a word, the Governor nodded at Phelps and exited the room.  “You see, I know most people support gay rights, but why should THEY have a say?  I already know what they want.  Why not hear from people on the other side?”   My blood pressure was rising to dangerously high levels as I sputtered, “But Governor, those people are on the lunatic fringe!  They advocate violence against gays and picket funerals of our soldiers because they oppose gays serving in the military.”   The Governor smiled and said, “Exactly.  I know all the arguments FOR gay rights, these people deserve a say too.”  I countered “Even if their declared mission is to ELIMINATE gay rights?  How does that make sense?”  The Governor shook his head, “You have a lot to learn about democracy.”

On and on our journey continued.  I had to watch the most radical elements of “Right-to-Life” discussing women’s reproductive health rights, oil executives laying out new fracking policies, and the NRA putting together a new comprehensive gun policy.  Each time the Governor seemed content to having the most radical elements of our society proposing new policy.  When we arrived at the last door labeled “Education” I was already resigned to what horrors lay behind the door.  Sure enough, the room did not have a single public school educator, administrator, or union representative.   Seated around the table were representatives of private online education companies, the Catholic Church, the Mackinac Center, the Oxford Foundation, and a cranky old retired elementary teacher whose t-shirt read “Kids Suck.”

“Governor!” I blurted, “How can you possibly let THESE people create education policy in this state?  They all hate public education and have an economic interest in defunding it.”

“Even Mrs. Crabtree at the end of the table?” the Governor wondered.

Ignoring his question, I pushed for an answer.  “Most people in this state support public education.  Most people are willing to pay to make sure it survives.  Most people believe a solid system of public education is one of the keys to preserving our democracy!”

The Governor replied, “I know that, but why should the people who support public education make the policy?  I’d rather have its sworn enemies make the rules.”

“I can’t believe that!” said I.
“Can’t you?” the Governor said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
I laughed. “There’s no use trying,” I said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Governor. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

“I don’t understand you,” said I. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”
“That’s the effect of living backwards,” the Governor said kindly: “it always makes one a little giddy at first.”

And with apologies to Lewis Carroll, we tumbled out of the mirror and on to the floor of the Governor’s office where I was promptly arrested on a charge of trying to make too much sense.

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