Friday, January 07, 2005

I Try Not To Get Too Outraged

I have been trying not to let the White House and the GOP-run government get me too crazy this year. They want to take down Social Security through subterfuge, fine; want to role back all of their own ethic rules for the House leadership, sure; find justifications for outrageous behavior, even against alleged terrorist, okay. As unwise as I think all of the ideas are, they are at least being done above board. At some point the American public will have a chance to judge those positions (or, in the view of some, already have.)

However, this USA Today story about Armstrong Williams drives me nuts! In brief, the Department of Education paid this conservative commentator almost a quarter of a million dollars to promote the No Child Left Behind law. That's $240,000 of taxpayer dollars paid out for propaganda posing as punditry. And they did this without public disclosure by either Armstrong of the Dept. of Education. If not for the USA Today's Freedom of Information Act inquiry, this little tidbit of information would have gone hidden away forever.

If Armstrong Williams (who I don't particularly agree with, but have never thought bad of) wants to promote No child Left Behind as part of his punditry, he is certainly entitled. If he believes so strongly in it that he would like to join the government to promote it, even better. But it is unacceptable for him to accept money from the government to provide his "opinions".

Not only does it stink to high heaven, but it raises some interesting questions -- what other conservative commentators may be the recipient of government generosity? Does the Department of Defense have a similar slush fund to deal with potential criticism of the Iraq war? And is the money awarded prophylactically, or is it a reward for those who toe the line?

I hope that this is merely a stupid decision on the part of the DOE and Williams. (And, by the way, he should return the money, and the person at DOE who made the decision should be fired.) But it may help to explain why so many conservative commentators have been so willing to turn their back on their "principles" as long as it is the Bush Administration doing the violating.