Read It and Weep
The Washington Post
6 November 2003
By Art Buchwald
It's one thing to burn school library books; it's another not to have any books
I visited a public school in Northwest Washington. Some friends were holding a
benefit to raise money for a library that had no books, desks, chairs or
The District of Columbia is a victim of tax cuts, and libraries are being closed
or shortchanged. It turns out the Bush administration and Congress are not as
interested in libraries as one might think.
The question is, "Do we need books in America to educate our children?"
It's the old guns vs. butter story -- or butter vs. guns.
The military-industrial complex (aka the Pentagon) says it needs many more
billions of dollars than it thought, not only to fight a war but also to keep
the peace. It argues that the money could better be used not just for today's
weapons but also for ones that have not yet been developed.
The choices for the military are easy: an aircraft carrier or Mark Twain, a
Black Hawk helicopter or Shakespeare.
The military-industrial complex has its priorities, and the public believes
everything the MIC tells them. You may wonder who makes these decisions. They
are men and women who look just like you and me. They must choose wisely and
economically, and if they make a several-billion-dollar mistake, Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld says, "nobody's perfect."
The MIC has thousands of lobbyists in Washington to make sure America has all
the guns it needs. This is not to say those in the Defense Department are
against education -- it's just not something they do.
A library doesn't kill anybody. School officials are not against producing
cruise missiles -- it's just not something they do.
The educators say: "The reason Johnny can't read is that he has no books. It is
not only education that is getting shortchanged. So are health, Social Security
and the environment -- and anything else that has to do with butter."
Of course, no one is to blame. That, lobbyists tell you, is the way the cookie
President Bush is not against butter, but with his tax cut he claims that
whatever butter he gives us is enough. He hopes his tax cut will jump-start the
economy. He says the only way to do it is to shortchange the states and cities
that are now even running out of margarine.
With the tax cut, he maintains he can provide guns and butter and rebuild Iraq
at the same time. And so the controversy continues unabated.
How many guns for Iraq and how much butter for our schoolchildren?
I left the school wondering why Johnny can't read. Was it the fault of
government? I couldn't answer the question, but I discovered that maybe the
administration and Congress can't read, either. And that scares the hell out me.