Editorial Roundup: United States
Apr 26, 2023, 9:31 AM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on the politicization of the education system
The old-fashioned way states craft learning standards for grade-school students is slow and sure: Committee upon committee of stakeholders, from teachers to mathematicians to geographers to political scientists, work out how best to distill a vast body of knowledge down to what’s most important for children to master. The latest example of this process in Virginia, however, has been a modern-day political drama, and, though it ended well enough, the episode shows how students could suffer as adults increasingly politicize the nation’s primary education system.
The state’s board of education this week voted unanimously to approve new standards of learning for history and social sciences, a task it’s legally required to perform every seven years. An initial draft of the standards, started under former governor Ralph Northam (D), arrived in August after years of development. But instead of moving it into a public comment period, then-superintendent Jillian Balow surprised citizens by embarking on an extensive revision that critics complained was both too rushed to allow for thoughtful feedback and too closed off from the public.
The standards the board voted through on Thursday represent an updated third draft. They are, essentially, a compromise. The six-hour working session preceding their approval made that much clear: Members decided whether to refer to Columbus Day also as Indigenous’ Peoples Day; whether to restore the mention of the word “fascism” to a discussion of World War II; whether to include people such as Abigail Adams and Crispus Attucks among revolutionary-era leaders.
The result is probably the best a bipartisan body could do to please as many constituents as possible, and upset the fewest, while still creating a decent product. Mistakes have been fixed, missing terms have been restored, and in many areas real progress over previous years’ standards has been made. Slavery is now listed as the cause of the Civil War; another change features the period after Reconstruction during which a biracial party called the Readjusters operated. Yet it’s alarming that every decision to include a particular personage or event, every choice of word, turned into a political balancing game.
Opponents of the standards seemed impossible to please in the months of controversy that preceded this week’s vote, for example, pointing out omissions of material that hadn’t actually been left out. This was probably inevitable: State leaders’ choice to depart from the usual professionally led procedure was guaranteed to turn the standard-writing process into an ideological battle — especially following a campaign in which, as a candidate, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) riled up the base by promising to “ban” critical race theory.
Indeed, it was fitting that the most serious source of discord among board members this week was not the standards themselves but a preface of “guiding principles” that contained a line instructing teachers to engage students in “age-appropriate ways that do not imply students today are culpable for past events.” Anne Holton, appointed to the board by former governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, stressed that this language was reminiscent of model laws around the country capitalizing on the anti-CRT craze to discourage teachers from teaching Black history.
While Virginia’s board of education seems to have wrestled the process back under control, risks remain across the country. See, for instance, the conservative Civics Alliance’s focus on identifying states whose social studies standards will soon undergo revision so that supporters can “rally against the political and bureaucratic machine,” as the group has said about Rhode Island’s impending rewrite.
Yet when it comes to crafting assessment criteria and curriculums, the bureaucratic machine is likelier to do a good job than dueling political activists: Students can only learn so much in so little time, but when any exclusion of a particular person or event prompts outcry, the incentive is to cram in more and more material. This can result in a hodgepodge of names and dates rather than a coherent, conceptual vision. Or, on the flip side, it can result in standards that say not too much but too little. South Dakota, the Fordham Institute points out in a report grading states’ standards, requires eighth graders to learn “how government decisions impact people, places, and history,” a standard so vague as to be meaningless.
Too much focus on precisely what’s in and precisely what’s out of state educational standards also can distract from other essential discussions: about academic rigor, about the degree of complexity students at each grade level can handle, about how much to emphasize memorization versus inquiry.
Social studies will always implicate ideological questions. Historians are involved in an ever-evolving conversation about this country’s past — not just what happened, but why it happened and why it matters. Figuring out how to make that conversation accessible to a rising generation is a difficult task that demands input from a wide variety of groups, including the public. But treating this process as a political tug-of-war in which the winner is the party that manages to get the most names, or events, or units included or excluded guarantees that, in the long run, students will lose.
The New York Times on Biden’s age
Only 47% of Democrats want to see Joe Biden on the ballot in 2024, according to the latest Associated Press poll. That’s not because they think he’s done a bad job in office. Democrats tend to like President Biden and continue to give him good marks on handling the economy and foreign policy.
But many Democrats, particularly younger ones, are worried that he will simply be too old to be effective in a second term, which would end when he is 86. “My problem with him running in 2024 is that he’s just so old,” one Democrat told pollsters.
That may be deeply unfair — people age at different rates — and in Mr. Biden’s case, it’s impossible to deny that politics and conspiracy theories, rather than facts, fuel at least some of the concern. But candidates shouldn’t pretend, as Mr. Biden often does, that advanced age isn’t an issue. Mr. Biden is 80 now, the oldest American to serve as president, and even supporters, including the political strategist David Axelrod, have expressed deep worries that his age will be both a political liability in 2024 and a barrier to a successful second term. If Mr. Biden runs again, as he recently said he intends to, questions will persist about his age until he does more to assure voters that he is up to the job.
Mr. Biden’s age makes him an outlier even in an era when the nation’s political leadership is getting older. The current Senate, where the average age is 63.9 years, is the second oldest since 1789. The House, where the average age is 57.5 years, is the third oldest. By comparison, the average age in the United States is 38.8 years.
Concerns about age — both in terms of fitness for office and being out of touch with the moment — are legitimate, as Mr. Biden acknowledged in an interview in February with ABC News. His standard line, repeated in that interview, is: “The only thing I can say is, ‘Watch me.’”
But Mr. Biden has given voters very few chances to do just that — to watch him — and his refusal to engage with the public regularly raises questions about his age and health.
The usual White House method of demonstrating a president’s mastery is to take tough questions in front of cameras, but Mr. Biden has not taken advantage of that opportunity, as The Times reported on Friday. He has held fewer news conferences and media interviews than most of his modern predecessors. Since 1923, only Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan took fewer questions per month from reporters, and neither represents a model of presidential openness that Mr. Biden should want to emulate. His reticence has created an opening for critics and skeptics.
The president also needs to talk about his health openly and without embarrassment, and to end the pretense that it doesn’t matter. Those who are watching him with an open mind have seen a strong performance this year. His State of the Union address on Feb. 7 shattered the Republican attempts to portray him as doddering. With a passion rarely seen at one of these speeches — let alone in his political history — Mr. Biden presented a remarkably effective defense of his presidency and gave a preview of what is likely to be an imminent re-election campaign.
The Times reported last summer that Mr. Biden’s overall energy level has declined, and he continues to stumble over words in his public appearances. But those flaws alone don’t signal a politician who is too old to run again. His first term, in fact, is already full of accomplishment: The economy has added 12.6 million jobs since he took office, inflation is cooling, and he has signed significant legislation to fight climate change, improve access to health care, and make investments in manufacturing and infrastructure. He has stood up to Russia’s destructive campaign in Ukraine, and rallied the West to Ukraine’s side.
Nonetheless, as Mr. Biden nears his actuarial life expectancy, concerns about his ability to handle the demands of campaigning and a potential second term are unlikely to disappear. Only a combination of performance and complete candor will change the minds of skeptical voters. Old age remains a sensitive topic, and many people, particularly men, are reluctant to discuss personal infirmities for fear of demonstrating weakness or being pushed aside by impatient younger generations. There is good reason for the federal government’s prohibition of age discrimination in employment — a protection that begins at age 40. Ageism is real.
That law, however, doesn’t apply to people who are running for office. Voters have every right to ask questions about the medical condition of a candidate who wants their support. In 2016 both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton gave the public very few details about their health. (Mr. Trump released a particularly preposterous doctor’s letter claiming he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”)
Mr. Biden acknowledged during the lead-up to the 2020 campaign that he was “chronologically” old but said it was up to voters to decide whether that was important. In that election, against an opponent who was only four years younger, the answer was clearly no. In November 2021, he released a medical report that said he was a “healthy, vigorous 78-year-old” and noted nothing more serious than a stiffened gait due to spinal changes and some acid reflux that caused him to cough.
His most recent health summary, released on Feb. 16, said much the same thing, describing him as a “healthy, vigorous 80-year-old male who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.” But his cognitive abilities went unmentioned. That’s something he should discuss publicly and also demonstrate to the voters, who expect the president to reflect the nation’s strength.
If he runs again, Mr. Biden will need to provide explicit reassurance to voters; many of them have seen family members decline rapidly in their 80s. Americans are watching what Mr. Biden says and does, just as he has asked them to do.
The Wall Street Journal on the Fox-Dominion settlement
The wailing you heard across the land Tuesday afternoon was the sound of thousands of journalists lamenting the settlement of the defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News. An entire industry of reporters has been denied the schadenfreude of seeing their hated political and media competitor in the dock. An hilariously revealing courtroom account in Politico laments that “hopes were dashed—dreams torpedoed” by the settlement.
The settlement is a victory for Dominion, which said Fox will pay $787.5 million. Fox didn’t apologize, though it said “we acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.” Those claims involved statements aired on Fox from the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell that blamed Dominion’s voting machines for Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020.
These columns never saw any evidence for such claims, and we said so in a Nov. 18, 2020, editorial, “Rage Against the Voting Machine.” Dominion cited that editorial more than once in its legal filings. On Dec. 1, 2020, we ran an op-ed from Dominion CEO John Poulos rebutting the claims against his company.
We share common ownership with Fox, and we have a weekend news program on the network. But neither Fox nor News Corp, our parent, is an ideological monolith, and our owners hire journalists to make independent judgments about what to cover or say in print or on television. The press routinely asserts otherwise, despite evidence to the contrary, but that’s the truth of our experience since Rupert Murdoch purchased the Journal in 2007.
As much as the media ached for a Fox defeat in court, they ought to thank the company for settling. A verdict against the network might well have hurt the rest of the press by making it harder to defend against defamation claims.
The network would no doubt have appealed a negative verdict in Delaware court, where the trial judge made rulings and comments that suggested an anti-Fox bias. Had the appeal made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justices might have reconsidered their 1964 precedent in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. That ruling requires plaintiffs to prove that false statements against public figures are made with “actual malice.” Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have said they would like to revisit that standard.
The media cheering for Fox to lose were in effect cheering for a verdict that could have meant more lawsuits, many of them meritless, against journalists. Their hatred of Fox and conservatives is so strong that they ignored their self-interest.
One journalistic lesson of the Dominion case is not to indulge crank claims because your audience wants to hear them. That includes claims about Russian collusion or stolen elections. Mr. Trump could never admit he defeated himself in 2020, so he claimed the election was stolen. He tweeted a false “report” about Dominion, and the grifters who attend him, then and now, spread it.
Journalism is an imperfect craft, and mistakes are inevitable. That’s why the bar for proving libel should be high. But the obligation of a journalist is to discern the truth, or at least as close as one can get to knowing it, and tell it to your audience straight.
The Los Angeles Times on Biden’s EV tax credits
Expanded electric car subsidies were supposed to be a centerpiece of President Biden’s signature climate law, accelerating emissions reductions by allowing buyers to claim generous tax credits and save thousands of dollars on a plug-in vehicle.
But in reality they’re looking pretty stingy. The Biden administration this week announced vehicle models eligible for federal tax credits, and only 11 of more than 90 electric vehicles on the market today qualify for the full $7,500 tax credit. Of those, two are not fully electric, but plug-in hybrids with a battery-only range of 21 to 32 miles. Seven other vehicles qualify only for a half-credit of $3,750.
That’s an embarrassingly short list for a law Biden has touted as bold, transformative and “the biggest step forward on climate ever.” And it’s bad news for consumers who might prefer other EV models and for the environment because it only blunts efforts to cut vehicle pollution fast enough to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The paltry selection of eligible vehicles is due to restrictions included in the Inflation Reduction Act to win the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and to encourage domestic manufacturing and reduce reliance on China, which produces most of the world’s EV batteries. To qualify for the tax credit, vehicles must be assembled in North America and built with specific percentages of battery parts and critical minerals from the U.S. or countries with which it has a free trade agreement.
These complex rules have hamstrung implementation of a law that is supposed to give consumers clear incentives to switch to electric vehicles. The Biden administration should act quickly to loosen them so that more zero-emission vehicles, including more affordable models, are eligible for a tax credit. If that cannot be done within the bounds of the law, Congress needs to step in with clarifying legislation.
The list includes few small, affordable cars, which are more environmentally friendly and safer than big, hulking SUVs. One of the only such cars on the list is the Chevrolet Bolt. The $7,500 tax credit gets the lowest-priced version, with a suggested retail price of $26,500, down to $19,000, which is less than the sticker price for some gas-powered compact cars like the Toyota Corolla or Hyundai Elantra. But good luck finding one. Limited inventory, ongoing supply problems and dealer markups have Bolts and other lower-priced models especially hard to find. And being one of only a few on the tax credit list is likely to drive up competition and prices.
It’s possible, as Biden administration officials argue, that in the coming years the manufacturing and battery sourcing rules will push manufacturers to build more EVs in the U.S. and support American jobs. But in the short term, they will hinder EV adoption at a critical moment when, for the sake of our health and our planet, we have no time to waste in racing toward our climate goals.
The transportation sector is the nation’s largest source of pollution, responsible for 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Most of that comes from gas-fueled cars and trucks that must be quickly replaced with zero-emission models.
The Biden administration is at last taking good long-term action to transition to electric cars and trucks, with the Environmental Protection Agency last week proposing pollution standards that would require about two-thirds of new passenger vehicles sold by 2032 to be electric (they accounted for only 6% of new sales last year). But those rules aren’t set to take effect until model year 2027, and that’s too long to wait to start getting more zero-emission vehicles on the road.
Tax credits are critical to ramping up EV sales in the near term, but they’ll remain largely ineffective as long as they remain mired in so much red tape.
China Daily on Western warships in the Taiwan Straight
Whenever the word Taiwan is uttered by certain Western politicians it has become their habit to accompany it with an accusing finger pointed at Beijing. Sticking faithfully to the script written by Washington, they try to paint the picture that Beijing is using “threats, coercion, intimidation or the use of force” in a bid to change the status quo.
Some have even tried to link the Taiwan question with the conflict in Ukraine.
Such talk is irresponsible and has been firmly rebutted by Beijing, which has repeatedly clarified that the Taiwan question is an internal affair and therefore fundamentally different from the Ukraine issue. Which is something that even the countries hyping up the claim that the Chinese mainland is itching to use force implicitly acknowledge as they all say they adhere to the one-China policy.
The United States has made no bones about the fact that it is using the Taiwan question as part of its “Indo-Pacific” China-containment strategy, and many of its allies, such as the United Kingdom and Japan, are tagging along for the ride as they have forgotten how to stand on their own two feet.
Some countries in the European Union, however, seem caught on the horns of a dilemma, as whether to go all-in with the U.S. or not in its efforts to suppress China’s rise has become a pressing question that will determine if the bloc asserts or surrenders its strategic autonomy.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell shed some light on the pickle the EU has got itself into in an article published in a French weekly on Sunday.
Calling for European nations to send warships to the Taiwan Strait to “signify Europe’s commitment to freedom of navigation”, he said that Taiwan “concerns us economically, commercially and technologically”. And he explained why — “because Taiwan has a strategic role in the production of the most advanced semiconductors.” That this comment came after he attended the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Japan is probably no coincidence. It echoes similar remarks of the top diplomat of the U.S. in the meeting.
But putting aside the fact the semiconductor risk comes from Washington, which is trying to get an exclusive and iron grip on the production of the most advanced semiconductors, it shows that the EU hierarchy at least is still intent on toeing Washington’s line. The only reason Borrell would call for European warships to patrol the Taiwan Strait is to please Washington. Why? Because, the EU leaders, who are of a certain generation, believe the bloc has “a major security concern, Ukraine.”
But Borrell — and other Western politicians — should know that European warships sailing though the Taiwan Strait is not conducive to peace and stability. Every time they do so, it will be a provocative move to intervene in China’s internal affairs.
Any such provocation risks disaster as it is foolishly playing with fire.