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No More Bullying! Except for a Good Cause

There was an excellent article a few days ago on some of the reasons why the government is too big, expensive and pervasive. There are additional reasons, including the very nature of the bureaucratic process and the propensity of many to demand that the government do something no matter how trivial their cause may be. Since few politicians feel that they can get elected or reelected by failing to construct or at least to stumble onto bandwagons, that's what they do. Fortunately for them, President Obama is spearheading a new warm and fuzzy domestic initiative. They can clamber onto his rainbow colored bandwagon and ride along; they may not even have to get off and push.

Tearing himself away from the difficult responsibilities of dithering about a plethora of domestic and international problems, and while being decisive on some really important stuff such as videotaping his NCAA picks for subsequent broadcast, President Obama found time in his busy schedule on March 10 to use his "bully pulpit" (interesting phrase that, in context) to decry the bullying of children. As to this critical national issue, President Obama's White House has taken "full leadership." Bully for them all. President Obama knows personally all about bullying; he has bravely acknowledged that as a child people bullied him on account of his big ears and funny name (he was called "Barry" until he decided, when in college, to revert to Barack); it must have been a horrible cross to bear.

Approximately one hundred and fifty anti-bullying advocates -- lobbyists for gays and lesbians, legislators, White House officials, at least one cabinet secretary and the first lady -- assembled at the While House:

… to cheer for increased government monitoring and intervention in Facebook conversations, in playgrounds and in schoolrooms around the country.

No officials at the televised East Room roll-out of the White House’s anti-bullying initiative suggested any limits to government intervention against juvenile physical violence, social exclusion or unwanted speech. None mentioned the usefulness to children of unsupervised play. None suggested there were any risks created by a government program to enforce children’s approval of other children who are unpopular, overweight, or who declare themselves to be gay, lesbians or transgender.

“It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, on the playground, or even online,” first lady Michelle Obama said.

"We’re going to prevent bullying and create an environment where every single one of our children can thrive,” the president said, as he announced a series of government actions intended to fund, guide and pressure state and local officials to adopt regulations and programs that would shield children from insults or social-exclusion as well as from physical harm. (emphasis added)

Nothing was said at the White House love-in about the 145,100 public school teachers attacked, or the other 276,700 threatened, by students at their schools as reported in the Department of Education's Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2010. Be that as it may, having already taken over the regulation of school bake sales and lunches, why not stumble into this arena as well? Kids might bully each other for their yummy treats.

Some bullying is, apparently, more importantly destructive than other:

Joel Burns, councilman in a Fort Worth, Texas, applauded the president’s focus on kids who say they are gay or lesbian. “The president did not shy away from LGBT as a topic,” he said. Also, the president endorsed “enumeration,” which is especially important, he said. Enumeration is the specific inclusion of gay, lesbian and transgender categories as deserving of regulatory protection.

Legislation against bullying at the college level has been reintroduced to "require colleges and universities that get federal money to adopt policies that prohibit harassment based on a student's sexual orientation, race, gender, and other factors." Although that and similar legislation seems unlikely to get very far, progress has been rapid on other fronts in the fight and there is already a White House anti-bullying website describing all sorts of initiatives. There will be more:

Federal officials can push the initiative forward with many other tools, including agency employees, federal grants to advocacy groups, agency regulations, cooperation from companies such as Facebook, and the White House’s bully pulpit. In the next few weeks, Facebook is set to announce new steps that could allow kids to highlight online conversations and insults for subsequent inspection by adults, school officials and regulators.

School yard, Facebook, and other youthful bullying is bad -- the kids should, according to the White House experts, instead seek the intervention of "responsible adults" such as teachers and school administrators. However, bullying by "responsible adults" themselves, including union and Democratic Party thugs activists, and by the teachers and administrators in whom children are to confide about having been bullied, is neither to be condemned nor scrutinized. Maybe they only bully to promote approved causes. Lying about being sick while taking students to their protests in Madison? Depriving them and others of the dubious benefit of their educational skills? No problem.

Recently, some of the bullying in Wisconsin has included threats of death and other assorted violence like this, noted at Power Line, against several Republican legislators including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald:

This is how it's going to happen: I as well as many others know where you and your family live, it's a matter of public records. We have all planned to assault [sic] you by arriving at your house and putting a nice little bullet in your head. However, this isn't enough. We also have decided that this may not be enough to send the message. So we have built several bombs that we have placed in various locations around the areas in which we know that you frequent ...

According to the linked Power Line article, "This threat is made more credible, according to Fitzgerald's spokesman, by the fact that Democratic Party activists have … actually gone so far as to go up to [Fitzgerald's] house and bang on the windows at 6 a.m. demanding that he come out." Mob activity by teachers and others said to be their supporters is also peachy and no efforts to promote sensitivity training, understanding of the rights of others, or even civility in political discourse (Democrats seem to get a pass) have been announced.

It might, I suppose, be really great if the federal government (or even those pesky little state governments which keep obstructing "progress") could impose cures for all social problems: bad breath, not being standard size, unpopularity, being blond (or not being blond), having anti-social attitudes, making bad jokes, watching too much (or too little) television, and thousands of other daily bothers. The federal government can't do so legitimately or effectively and in any event has other arguably more important stuff with which to deal -- such as Libya, as to which after taking a stand that Colonel Gaddafi has to go President Obama isn't prepared to do much more than kvetch about it. "It’s a sad (but no longer rare) day in world affairs when more spine is shown in Paris than Washington." There are also the minor problems of the federal budget and congressional disagreement about that which have been handed off to Vice President Biden (while visiting Finland, Russia, and Moldova). President Obama, according to a Democratic staffer, is "not using the bully pulpit. … He’s waiting until the last hour to come in.” After having used his bully pulpit to decry bullying by school children, perhaps he has decided to eschew bullying on other matters himself. He certainly has had lots of practice in waiting for the last minute and does it in consummate fashion.

This is all just one small example of the many ways in which government bureaucracies flourish and grow. Bullying is bad and disruptive and should cease. Sometimes, the victims are disciplined and the bullies are not; sometimes those bullied take care of the problem themselves. But these things do not make bullying a federal problem, against which to array the panoply of presidential leadership, federal promotion, and power. To the extent that bullying by school children is a problem, it is best dealt with at the state and local levels -- and even by those anachronisms, parents. That's where the problems arise; situations are different for different families in different places and that's where the solutions (if such exist) should be found. We do not need to put more and more people into little boxes so that more federal "enumerations" of people requiring special governmental protection can be devised. Attorney General Holder already has more than enough to do and makes a pig's breakfast of even that.

It may in the final analysis years from now be found to have been good (I am already coming to that view myself) that President Obama devoted his presidential efforts and clout to the "little things" -- they mean a lot -- where he could exhibit great empathy for those who support him and show concern for their problems. He does very well at being ineffective and can do that as to such concerns without doing tremendous damage to the country. Maybe the best we can hope for is that until January of 2013 he will also let Vice President Biden continue to deal with congressional relations during the budget difficulties and that he will continue to indulge Secretary Clinton and his various other chiefs in the intelligence, military, and other communities provided that they don't dispute his wise dithering or -- horror of horrors -- say something clear and consistent or assert in public that something actually has to be done. The thought of what might happen were he really to lead in matters of national importance is frightening.