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Putting money in all the wrong places

Prisons or schools: Which do you think is the better investment? That’s the philosophical question at the root of the upcoming election, in Florida and nationally, and has been for quite a few years now.

I don’t mean this literally, though we have seen roughly this choice before. I mean it more symbolically: Do we want to structure our society around the carrot or the stick?

Look at Florida’s gubernatorial race. Jeb Bush claims to be in favor of education but actively opposes a citizen’s initiative to make it a priority.

He says education revolves around setting standards, not creating conditions.

Bill McBride, on the other hand and however vaguely, has said that if the voters give him the mandate to reduce class sizes, he’ll do it. Period. McBride says it’s time to invest; Bush uses the FCAT as a weapon.

Nationally, we have a similar scenario. The Republican Party is most happy when talking about shrinking government, except for defense and law enforcement.

These are tools of punishment, not development. It’s a very macho outlook, spare the rod. Problem is, it’s an aphorism, not governance. Internationally, our country is taking the stance that anyone who disagrees with the way we want the world to run will be punished.

And if other countries just want to share in the global pie, well, we’re not going to help them unless they promise us the biggest piece.

The knock on the first President Bush was that he was born on third base but imagined he had hit a triple.

The same goes for his sons and those who would follow them. The rich think they earned their wealth and don’t recognize that society had everything to do with why some have more.

They don’t want to give others even half the chance they had.

There is hypocrisy in the conservative ethos. The family-values constituency takes an anti-family approach.

Decent parents know they have to help their kids grow up through food, shelter, love, education, etc. No one disagrees with that, but the conservatives seem to think it ends at the front porch, that the ability to provide for a family just happens if we beat our breasts enough.

It doesn’t.

Conditions have to exist for each family to take care of itself. In other words, a productive society has to act like a larger family, and on up the scale even to the international level. Otherwise, the kids will grow up ignorant and will turn to the most expedient outlet to feed them. Often, this is a crime, be it petty theft or war. Prisons and armies won’t fix that.

If you think about the conservative mentality, it looks like a gated community. People who live there want security, comfort and amenities, but they don’t want to share. Anyone who intrudes is arrested.

But the more such notions proliferate, the fewer people there are who can afford to be inside the gates.

The fence holding out the riff-raff grows smaller and smaller. Until it’s hard to tell who is in prison or out.

Is that the kind of place we want to live?

Conservatives love to lean on the Bible for their justification.

Trouble is, they never read past the pyrotechnic punishment of the Old Testament to the real work of the New.

Paul Swider is a USF