See the headline on today’s front page?
Which is better —
insider or outsider?
It refers, of course, to the superintendent of education race. It’s an idiotic question, but I certainly don’t blame my colleagues down in the newsroom for that. They are reflecting the times in which they are editing. Today, such a question regarding the head of something as complex as our schools system is … perfectly "reasonable."
You see, we have defined "reasonable" down to an absurdly low level in our politics today. Even the use of "insider" and "outsider" to describe this race is misleading, because we’ve distorted those concepts as well.
Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan ran as "outsiders," and both had been governors — Reagan was the governor of our largest state, which is larger and richer than most nations. They had been chief executives before; they had some clue what the job entailed. They were real outsiders because they weren’t part of the establishment. That establishment chewed up Carter and spit him out; Reagan triumphed over it.
Karen Floyd most certainly isn’t an "outsider" by those standards. She’s had limited administrative experience in the private sector during her job-hopping career, and none in the public. She doesn’t know anything more than a randomly chosen person off the street knows about education, and less than many you might find that way. She hasn’t been working on improving schools from the outside — running advocacy groups or participating in think tanks or establishing and successfully running private alternatives. Maybe she plays a leading role in the PTA, but if she’s touted that, I’ve missed it.
The bizarre thing is, by the usual standards of "outsider," Jim Rex is it. Most of his career has been spent in higher ed — both public and private colleges — working on improving schools from the outside. He’s found innovative ways to improve the teaching pool and training, and he’s got plenty of ideas — based on actual experience — for making greater improvements.
No, today, "insider" means "someone who has relevant experience of some kind" and "outsider" means, "doesn’t know jack about the job." And the latter, in our anti-intellectual, anti-expert, Reality TV-soaked society, has enormous appeal.
I don’t understand why. But then, I expect words to mean what they mean, and voters to behave rationally. So don’t mind me; I’m deluded.