The adage that politicians rely upon the short memory span of voters allowing candidates to renew dead-letter issues and statements from the past or repeat by repackaging issues has not disappeared from the politisphere. Within the universe of civil dialogue, the education of children pre-K to high school often dominates at the several levels of government. Lately, school boards and local candidates for office have been engrossed in issues such as critical race theory, transgender rights, mask mandates, and distance learning, among others. While these issues have drawn intense focus, occasionally some parent or candidate – perhaps to gain attention – may throw a red herring into the mix, an old, dead, red herring.
A candidate for a House of Delegates seat in Virginia’s Prince William County (PWC) declared in a candidate survey that “… any illegal alien should be allowed to attend schools in the Commonwealth, either primary, secondary, or higher education” and that financial assistance be limited to US citizens.
Recently, a candidate for a House of Delegates seat in Virginia’s Prince William County (PWC) declared in a candidate survey that “… any illegal alien should be allowed to attend schools in the Commonwealth, either primary, secondary, or higher education” and that financial assistance be limited to US citizens. Opinions of this type cause editorial writers to race to Google the topic for background material. As it turns out, the matter has long been shifted to the back burner. Nonetheless, its having been surfaced means examination of the populist message must be revisited.
One year shy of four decades ago, SCOTUS in Plyler v. Doe (1982) ruled that a Texas school district, under the 14th Amendment, was barred from denying an education to the children of Texas on account of legal status, i.e., undocumented. The Court held that “no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment jurisdiction can be drawn between resident immigrants whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident immigrants whose entry was unlawful.” Texas argued that such youthful residents were outside the ambit of the Amendment.
The Court further noted that the Texas law was “directed against children, and impose[d] its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control,” i.e., being brought into the United States. Plyler is a testament to a marriage of jurisprudence and rational public policy, one involving children who cannot vote.
Notwithstanding, the Virginia candidate subsequently, in an attempt to clarify his earlier statement, elaborated that his concern was that Virginia public schools do not have the resources to educate children who don’t speak English and that undocumented children who cannot speak English could overwhelm the school system.
Notwithstanding, the Virginia candidate subsequently, in an attempt to clarify his earlier statement, elaborated that his concern was that Virginia public schools do not have the resources to educate children who don’t speak English and that undocumented children who cannot speak English could overwhelm the school system. Thus, he conflated lawful immigrants requiring ESL curricula with unlawful students. The response suggests that the candidate had not refreshed himself on the issue.
Based upon 2020 census results, PWC has 482,204 residents, of whom 100,000 (21%) are estimated to be foreign born but not necessarily undocumented, since the vast majority of foreign born are legal; nor are all of them school children. Moreover, the candidate’s fears are unsupported by any information with respect to the actual number of children in either Virginia or PWC requiring ESL instruction. In the absence of more finite data, the potential for the school system to be overwhelmed is questionable. In the heightened sensitivity to race and immigration, such public pronouncements, while popular and music to the ears of some, contribute nothing to advancing improvement of education. It’s a mere “gotcha” moment for attention and reveals more about the candidate than perhaps he wished, including his lack of substance regarding established public policy and law (as also indicated by his use of the term alien).
Candidates and incumbents, perhaps especially in this digital age, need to be far more sensitive and alert to the fact that, even if individual voters’ memories are short, the access to historical information is virtually instantaneously within reach by smart phone or computer. This proposition may be seriously tested in the forthcoming midterm elections in 2022 and presidential in 2024. For example, the 147 GOP elected officials who voted to overturn the 2020 election results are not likely to escape into the political fog of memory.
It seems safe to state that the past reliance upon voter short term memory by politicians has entered a longer term period of testing and observation. Historians cannot agree whether Abraham Lincoln ever uttered words about fooling the people sometimes or all the time. Although apocryphal, it may be politically reasonable to believe that the people can be fooled. Fooling some of the people some of the time is likely becoming increasingly difficult, fooling them all of the time practically impossible.
Although demand for intensely advertised memory boosters such as Prevagen may decline, all will benefit from enhanced memory recall – except politicians.