Tea Party Speaker Touts ‘Schools Are Liberal And Evil’ Message In My Conservative, Rural Town

Lisa Watson is a modern-day Apostle Paul.

According to Christian tradition, Paul was travelling to Damascus when a voice from heaven and a bright light interrupted the trip. The episode led to his conversion and, indirectly, to the creation of most of the New Testament.

Watson, a speaker on the Tea Party circuit, also experienced a conversion. A self-described former member of the Left, her moment of truth included a voice and new outlook on life. Something was missing in Watson’s life, she said, and one evening, she sat down to watch “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.” This is how she described the aftermath (as reported in my local newspaper).

“By the time the show is over, I’m actually lightheaded. I curled on the side of my bed dizzy. And I heard a voice. The voice said, you are being lied to. My mind is racing. I’m thinking about everything he said.”

Fiscal Conservative Gone Bad

Watson presented her views in a small, inexpensive Eaton, Ohio venue ($25 an hour). The parking lot was filled on the night she advocated for a non-government funded approach to education — schools, she envisions, being operated by preachers and unpaid volunteers. The overall theme of her message (based on the newspaper article) was ‘public schools are the enemy — because they are liberal — and they are educating your children.’

She presented this message in a county:

  • That has supported a conservative political agenda for more than a century.
  • Where, in 2016, three out of four voters chose Trump.
  • That struggles to get ‘outsiders’ to teach — or substitute teach — in their school systems.
  • Where the local branch of the community college shuttered after less than a decade of service.
  • Where 11 percent do not graduate high school
  • Where 9 percent have an associate’s degree
  • Where only 14 percent have a 4-year college degree

Despite the lack of liberals in our educational system, and because of the lack of liberals in the community, her fear-based message resonates here.

Poor Choice of Venue

In a movement that prizes frugality above all else, the low-cost of the structure may have been a deciding factor, but Watson, and her supporters, could not have picked a more inappropriate edifice for the speech.

She presented the repressive ideology inside the Eaton Youth Center, located on the corner of Decatur Street and Park Avenue. When the building was constructed by Preble County youth, from reclaimed material, in the late 1930s, it was funded by the federal government as the activist government was seeking was to give young, unemployed individuals in small communities employment, and purpose. The head of the National Youth Administration, which funded the venture, said the building project was the ‘practical expression of the belief in the democratic form of government.’ In a Sunday edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the director said he was ‘especially proud of the Eaton Youth Center.’

But more desecrating than an ignorance that government involvement — and not unpaid volunteers — brought about the creation of the Youth Center — is the slap in the face of Stephen Decatur.

A Real Hero

Stephen Decatur, the man the street is named for, was the epitome of bravery. He faced a true enemy — as opposed to Watson’s manufactured ones. Decatur’s enemy was not his neighbors or fellow citizens.

In 1804 Decatur, and about 80 men, were commissioned to blow up a captured American ship. It was a suicide mission since the ship was anchored in a heavily-guarded enemy harbor. They embarked on the mission at night, without guns, so they would not alert nearby ships, and engaged in bloody hand-to-hand combat, before capturing the ship, setting it on fire, and escaping with their lives. The act was instrumental is changing the tide of the Tripoli War.

Preble’s Real Problems

Decatur’s history is obscure, so I would not expect Watson, or local members of the Tea Party to know it, but local organizers do know that Decatur Street is not heroic. If Watson, or her organizers, had researched problems affecting Eaton, and Preble County, they would have known that Decatur Street is home to much of Eaton’s drug activity.

About a month after Watson spoke, police agencies in Preble County conducted a ‘drug interdiction sting’ and posted the results on Facebook. In the comment section, one resident listed a Decatur Street home, close to the venue, as a drug house. But even a cursory look through the Eaton police reports demonstrate that Decatur Street has a drug problem.

Watson is correct on one thing — our society has problems in need of solutions — but she is woefully wrong on where she is placing the blame.


Afterthought

In Preble County we could start by:

  1. Improving wages for residents
  2. Creating more affordable housing
  3. Treating chemical addiction as a mental health issue, instead of a crime
  4. Removing blight buildings
  5. Developing amenities that improve the quality of life
  6. Upgrading our infrastructure
  7. Removing echo chambers and creating a community
  8. Solving the drug issue by going after distributors, and not focusing on small-time users/dealers
  9. Having employers create careers, instead of temporary jobs, so workers can build a future here
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Categories: 8th congressional district, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties | Leave a comment

‘Hollowing Out The Middle’ A Vivid Description Of My Hometown

“It is dangerous and misguided to fund and operate rural high schools with the primary goal of getting the academically oriented student to college and assuming that the non-college bound will somehow get a job on their own.” — Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America

“…thank goodness for us Walmart came to town when the economy was down and sales tax (revenue) continues on the rise,” Preble County Commissioner during the recent State of the County address.

In Preble County, 50 percent of the county’s revenue comes from sales tax, another 22 percent comes from property tax, the commissioners recently told those in attendance for the annual State of the County address. This was apparently presented without cause for alarm even though economists have argued for years that both taxes unfairly target the poor and underemployed.

It is these antiquated beliefs that Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America by Patrick J. Carr and  Maria J. Kefalas explores. Published in 2009, the book is the result of a married couple moving to a small Iowa rural community and interviewing 100s of residents as they sought to understand the demise of the Heartland’s dying small towns.

Four Types Of Students

Even though the book is a ‘scholarly study’ it’s an enjoyable read because of the way the authors tell the story. They do this by segmenting the story into the following types of students at the local high school: Achievers, Stayers, Seekers and Returners. They conclude the book with a “What can be done to save small towns’ section.

As I read the book, their types rang true locally, in large part, because of my daughter’s recent high school graduation. So my memories are fresh concerning her experience. One problem small towns have created for themselves is their approach to education, which like the quote above points out, is bias.

In Eaton, just like in the Iowa study, there is an effort to educate the ‘best and brightest’ along a career path which includes college with an understanding that these students will leave the region — contributing to our brain drain. Conversely, there is also a drive to let those who remain in the community fend for themselves.

A Stayer in the book talks about his high school experience — one too typical in rural communities. According to the man, a teacher advised him to quit — and he did. Years later he reflected on that moment and said that his mother,

“didn’t try to keep me in school, and my dad was kind of a bit [concerned], but he didn’t really say much. I mean, nobody really tried very hard to keep me in school…”

This can leave a region, like Preble County, with an under-educated workforce, one that easier to manipulate, and cheaper to employ, but a workforce that also makes it difficult to attract higher-skilled positions to the region.

Besides the four student types heavily detailed in the book, the authors also look at disturbing trends that exist in rural areas. Here are a few:

  • A disproportional amount of military personnel are culled from rural regions. As the study points out, though, this is not due to a abnormally high level of patriotism, but rather many join the military based on economic need.
  • Drug use is rampant in rural towns as drug cartels target them as easy markets.
  • The lack of in-migration has intellectually and economically hampered rural regions.
  • Low educational levels have reduced the ability of the regions to attract the creative class, and with it, higher-skilled and higher-paying jobs.

The book, which highlights the mindsets destroying small towns, is a strong indictment against the status quo. It ends with a very compelling quote,

Why let small-town America die when, with a plan and a vision, it could be reborn and once again vital?

Rating 5 out of 5. The book offers plenty of ‘food for thought’ for individuals wishing to understand why small towns are dying. For community leaders wishing to reverse the trend, the book offers suggestions for revitalizing the towns.


Afterthought

Ohio has been one of the hardest hit states post-Great Recession, and locally our over-reliance on sales tax revenue is tenuous at best since it puts our destiny in the control of a state economy. But, one of the most interesting aspects, for me, concerning the State of the County address was learning the county has about $26 million (roughly two-year’s worth of expenditures) in reserves. This buildup occurred during the national economy recovery which began under Obama in 2010.

A wise investment, of 5-10 percent of that fund, would be to invest it in the people of Preble County. Instead, our board of commissioners tends to let the state dictate what projects we pursue. A recent example of this is the ‘no-brainer’ decision to build a $1.3 million structure on the county’s fairgrounds. Like extreme couponers who cannot resist hording ‘free’ toilet paper and toothpaste, the commissioners could not resist the ‘free’ $400,000 (an Ohio grant) that will cost us of $900,000 (to finish the building). The building benefits a minority of the county’s citizens and Preble County has significantly more pressing needs.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Books I have read, My America

Larry Norman And The Creation Of Christian Rock

Playing at the White House in the late 1970s may have been the pinnacle of Larry Norman’s career.

When you’re raised in an Evangelical church and you want to be rebellious — without going wild — and it’s the late 1970s, you buy a LP of Only Visiting This Planet by Larry Norman, or any of his works. As a teen you know that any Norman album is hands down better than the Gospel quartets (or George Beverly Shea) the church is promoting.

My interest in Norman began as a teenager and over the years I would see him in concert nearly a dozen times. The first time I saw him, in 1984 at the Ichthus Festival in Wilmore, Kentucky I was honestly star-struck.

By the time Norman died in 2008, I had moved in a new direction and had lost touch with some of his later work. But, when I noticed a biography had been written about him, and released earlier this year, I bought a copy. The book, named after one of his most popular songs (from Planet), is titled Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock.

The book is an interesting read, even for someone not familiar with his music.

In The Beginning

Norman, as the book points out, is a complicated, and contradictory individual. His career began in pop music as one of the lead singers of People!. The band scored one Top 10 hit, I Love You, which was a remake. By 1969, Norman left the band and recorded what many call the first Christian Rock album, Upon This Rock. Although his first attempt was shaky, his songwriting talent — he worked as a songwriter for Capitol Records — convinced executives to take another chance.

In 1970, he recorded Only Visiting in England’s AIR Studios (where the Beetles recorded). The album, which always ranks in the Top 5 of Best CCM albums (usually one or two), was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2013. The registry preserves as “cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures, representing the richness and diversity of the American soundscape.” The album was the first Christian Rock album to receive the honor.

It is a fitting award because the album did usher in a movement and a genre. Today CCM is an estimated $500 million industry. (By contrast, Only Visiting sold about 10,000 copies)

Famous In His Heyday

Norman, mostly unknown today, rubbed shoulders with a lot of famous people. He started a church in his Hollywood home, and knew Dudley Moore and Bob Dylan, to name just two from his era. His personal manager Phil Mangano would go on to work as George W. Bush’s (and Obama’s) homelessness czar.

But, as the book points out Norman seems to implode in the early 1980s. After producing four of his best albums, Only Visiting, So Long Ago, In Another Land (Dudley Moore plays piano on this one) and Something New Under the Son, his personal life unravels. The book places much of the blame on his first wife, Pamela Ahlquist. She was an actress (small, non-reoccurring roles on TV), and model. Their marriage lasted about six or seven years, and in the book, she is portrayed as deceitful, engaging in ‘non-Christian’ photo shoots — posing in a porn magazine but, for some reason, turning down a Playboy centerfold. She is cast as a partier (who tried to smuggle pot on an overseas flight), a high spender, and someone who is jealous of Norman’s career.

This may be true, but other histories, like the film Fallen Angel, suggest Norman was not as saintly as this book makes him appear. This saintly martyr view leaves the reader feeling some of Norman’s darkness — from allegations of shady business deals to allegations he fathered (and abandoned) a son in Australia — has been minimized or erased.

Rating: 3.5/5

The book is rated 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon. I would give it a 3.5 — simply because a lot that’s in the book is common knowledge to people who followed his career, and the book relies too heavily on Norman’s private papers to tell the story.

His story is worth reading. Norman paved a unique road, and his music has been recorded by hundreds of CCM artists, and a few songs have even been covered by non-Christian artists like Cliff Richards and Petula Clark.


Afterthought

There is a potential Norman connection to the current White House. Vice President Mike Pence apparently drove to Ichthus in 1974 and credits that event with his conversion to Evangelical Christianity. Since this is in the heyday of Norman’s career, it is highly possible that Norman was one of the performers Pence heard.

Categories: Books I have read, Religion