Mona Charen

We conservatives are always on about the "unintended consequences" of government programs, but we didn't expect the Obama administration and congressional Democrats to provide such a vivid object lesson. If the tipsy, teetering debut of Obamacare invites a new skepticism about the capacity of government to run things, it will be the most welcome unintended consequence since Alexander Fleming left his staphylococci samples on a workbench over summer vacation.

Government programs, after all, fail frequently but are almost never held to account, far less held up to ridicule.

Consider education. In an era everyone keeps telling us is hi-tech-centered, only about 75 percent of American students graduate from high school. In major cities, the figure is closer to 50 percent. Detroit, Education Week reports, graduates only 46 percent of students; Denver, 50 percent; Los Angeles, 52 percent; and New York City, 54 percent. As for what those diplomas signify, it varies a lot. A 2009 survey by Common Core found that fewer than half of American high schoolers could place the Civil War in the correct half-century, 25 percent thought Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue after 1750 and 33 percent couldn't identify the Bill of Rights.

American students lag behind their peers from other developed nations in math, technology and literacy. You'd think that parents, especially those in poor neighborhoods, would be in the streets protesting. You'd think the failure of government to provide such a basic good to its citizens -- particularly after demanding and getting increasing subventions year after year -- would be met with at least consternation, if not outright rebellion. But no, these failing schools chug along, failing to educate and in some cases, failing even to provide for the physical safety of their students. It is reformers who are branded as dangerous rather than the government that permits this dereliction.

Is education too complicated and multifactorial? If you think so, have a glance at "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning," by Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom. But meanwhile, let's look at Medicaid because Obamacare is expanding this failed program.


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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