Belmont Club

Houston, we've got a problem

The Examiner’s Caroline Grannan warns readers about the dangers of letting a ‘titan’ named Leo Linbeck III “build an empire of KIPP schools … Leo is also very involved with KIPP, one of the most successful public charter school programs in the U.S. He has been the ‘Chief Growth Architect’ at KIPP:Houston, leading the development of a plan to grow to 42 KIPP:Houston schools in the next 8 years, ” and involved with trying to match up high school teachers with scholars.  That doesn’t sound very menacing until you read on.  The problem isn’t Linbeck’s qualification. Grannan acknowledges that he has a good resume and is already an adjunct professor at the Stanford and Rice university business schools. The difficulty, Grannan argues, is Linbeck’s ideology,  established by the fact that he posts comments at the Belmont Club, “an online discussion group of Houston conservatives”.   Very bad company. Still Grannan admits that “it’s political commentary, it’s free speech and I respect that.”

She cites one Leo’s disturbing comments at this blog, leading with this quote from a 2008 Belmont Club post:

Should Obama win and enter Washington as Napoleon entered Moscow, the question is how our nation will respond. If we leave our nation to the conquering hero, it will most assuredly burn – figuratively, and perhaps literally as well. …
Most of us still believe that America truly is a shining city on a hill, and we work hard to preserve this vision in our hearts, our families, our local communities, and our nation.

Admittedly, Obama and his Democrat allies in the Congress can encourage us to abandon our dreams. They can attempt to tax, regulate, and muzzle dissent, hoping to gain more control over us. They can loosen the bindings that tie our fates together, hoping that when left to our own devices we will be too weak to respond to their challenges. They can divide us into castes, and pit one group against another, hoping that our energies will be expended upon each other instead of true reform.  Speaking only for myself, I am preparing not for abandonment, but for a siege. It is inevitable that Democrats, once in total control, will overreach and awaken the spirit of our Founders that lives within the hearts of all true conservatives. At that point, the pushback will come.

But this time, rather than pushing for a takeover of Washington to get our share of the spoils, we must use our power to eliminate the spoils.

A quotation is often like a flag on some embattled hilltop with thousands either trying to plant it on the summit or tear it down. Grannan finds Linbeck’s remarks disturbing and doubtless others may find it disturbing that she finds it disturbing.  And that’s as it should be because “political commentary” and “free speech”, if it means anything, is really about a conflict of ideas and only secondarily about the right to talk about the breast implants of Carrie Prejean.  In fact Grannan’s worries about KIPP suggest that Linbeck might be on the right track.  Liberals have always taken their opinions seriously enough to try and peddle them through the educational system. Bill Ayers has made a career of teaching kids what to think. But that’s alright, according to conventional wisdom; so long as we keep Belmont Club commenters away from kids.  Nothing in the article suggests that Linbeck is engaging in distributing propaganda; but he has committed the offense of becoming involved with education without proving he’s got the correct set of ideas.

But how about letting the marketplace of ideas decide? The ultimate distinction between an information environment characterized by propaganda and freedom is the presence of choice. Unless there is more than one product on the idea market, then there is no choice and by necessity what remains is a regime of propaganda. The difference between telling a man what to think and challenging him to think is to give him a choice. Political correctness at its core isn’t about correctness but monopoly. The true danger that Linbeck represents is that he might foster choice; that there might be a rival product. And the danger of that can’t be underrated; when there’s a better product on the market, even the behemoths like General Motors and the New York Times can feel the foundations shifting under them. Yet idea products don’t come to market effortlessly and by magic. The hidden takeaway for conservatives who read the Examiner article shouldn’t be that Leo Linbeck is feared solely for conservative ideas , but that he is that most dangerous of things, the conservative with business and possibly marketing acumen.

I’ll think that Grannan should welcome the entry of someone like Leo Linbeck III into the marketplace of ideas, if only as a spur to make the offerings better.  As for conservatives, they should draw the lesson that things don’t happen unless real effort is put into them. Opinons may earn contempt from the liberal side of the aisle, but opinions plus acumen earns one fear — including the ultimate opprobrium of being a commenter on an “online discussion group of Houston conservatives”.