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Once again the motive to define common words used, abused and thrown about has recently struck me. Having read a recent opinion piece that blamed our faltering education system on liberal policies through the ages, plus meeting some very interesting progressive thinkers, pushes me once again into trying to make sense of social lexicon.

The word “conservative," for example, is defined in the dictionary as preserving what is and resisting making changes. Fine. The word “progressive," sometimes used synonymously with the word “liberal," is defined as “…favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement or reform as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are…”

So, when I hear or read about conservatives talking about reform, as in education reform, I wonder what they mean. It is especially puzzling when I look around at the way the rest of the world does things and see progress in just about every social area that keeps pushing our country further and further behind.

Our conservatives, for example, wish to maintain a health-care system that gouges the individual or family by continuously raising premiums and cutting services, all the while resisting universal, single-payer health care. Since the insurance companies have put a stranglehold on our health care, our national health has plummeted from first in the world to the high 20s in quality.

The rest of the world, by the way, practices some form of universal, single-payer health care. None of them are perfect, but none of them are 29th in citizen health either.

Our conservatives want to “reform” public education by making it private. Our progressives want to “reform” public education by exacerbating the stupidity of No Child Left Behind with Race to the Top. These two approaches are all about money, not education quality.

So, while our ideologies squabble over which “reform” will work best for their constituencies, our children’s education keeps dropping compared to the rest of the planet.

In other countries, they recruit teachers from the top tiers of college graduates, pay their would-be teachers for earning their license or certificate, send their kids to school for more than 200 days per year and pay their teachers and administrators salaries equivalent to their equally educated peers.

None of these systems are perfect, but most of them aren’t 35th and falling, either.

My main question is, “Why do we keep doing things that don’t improve our quality of life, while adhering to one ideology or another?”

Obviously, being conservative and maintaining what is in place is a loser. Trying to make progress toward improved health care or education seems stalled by a political agenda, corruption in government and funding ideas that clearly don’t work.

Why is that the way it is in this great country of innovation and ideas? It seems neither conservatives nor progressives are living up to their defined job descriptions.

We can’t seem to get it that cost accountants working for insurance companies are not qualified to make medical decisions, never mind setting the scale of cost.

While we remain in this intellectual limbo, the rest of the world laughs at us and takes their citizens to higher levels of health and education. Does any activist conservative or progressive ever wonder how our children will compete in the global economy? Do they ask why our people are sicker, less healthy and dumber than the rest of the civilized world? Do they fail to understand that healthy, educated people are infinitely more productive than what our systems are churning out?

Maybe this is the nation that conservatives want. If, by definition, they revere the absence of change and progress, then why is the rest of the world changing and progressing? Do our conservatives know something they don’t?

Maybe this is the nation progressives want. If, by definition, they revere progress, why aren’t we making any, or as much as we should, to keep up with the rest of the world?

Maybe conservatives and progressives have become so enamored of their opposition to one another that any change involves too much political risk such that we become the paralyzed giant, the has-been country that never wants to be great again.

I think all who read this understand the definition of the word “mediocre.”


Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at He can be reached by e-mail at