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EDITOR’S NOTE A Clown Dynasty?

If our politicians are a joke, the joke’s on us.
By Chris Tucker |

AH, TEMPTATION. I CAN STAND MY GROUND against a gooey dessert, another drink, an evening of mindless television-but in election years, I fight the almost irresistible impulse to laugh rather than vote, to dismiss politics as a clown dynasty or a bad melodrama in which scoundrels prey on fools.

The journalist and author H.L. Mencken, still much worth reading, could take great pleasure in politics because he expected nothing important to come of it. The scoundrels make their speeches, full of the sound and fury, waxing hot against their enemies and promising to replant Eden if elected. The fools brandish placards, shout slogans, troop to the polls. When the dust set-tles, new clowns sit on new thrones. Beyond that, very little changes.

If we watched politics the Mencken way, we wouldn’t even be disappointed when candidates who talk endlessly about ” new ideas” prove to be empty suits, In his view, no politician could generate a real idea or fail to damage one he borrowed. Politics, then, should be enjoyed as a combination of Saturday night wrestling and Saturday Night Live: a rich source of laughter, colorful characters, outrageous rhetoric, and, occasionally, much-deserved pratfalls for the high and mighty.

As tempting as it is, this cynic’s philosophy-set your expectations on zero, then sit back to watch the fun-fails to satisfy me. While there’s great material for satire in today’s flock of candidates {Clinton’s appetites and intellectual makeovers, Alexander’s plaid-shirt folksiness, Buchanan’s “peasant army,” and of course Phil Gramm’s S21-million exercise in futility), it’s just too easy to dismiss all political candidates as unworthy hucksters. Maybe we deserve better, but Jefferson and Lincoln are not running this time. Leno and Letterman to the contrary, there are serious issues that must get a hearing in these campaigns, somewhere in between the potshots about Dole’s age and Clinton’s philandering.

Education, for one. Last year the Texas Legislature, spurred on by Gov. George W. Bush and his unofficial education czar, Tom Luce, passed some worthwhile reforms, including one that makes it possible to set up charter schools in Texas. Such schools can function as real laboratories of change, but these experiments are not without their perils. Amidst the intellectual diversity such schools can foster, we must insist on certain universal standards, What happens, for instance, if the Rev, Fulsome Brimstone and his flock want to set up a charter school teaching the bogus “science” of creationism?

Speaking of schools, as you’ll see in our report on the best college-prep schools in Dallas, not everyone shares the optimism of outgoing Dallas school board president Sandy Kress, who has done an admirable job of leading an often contentious board. Test scores are indeed up in Dallas and the city continues to have numerous first-rate schools, some of which are discussed in “Class Acts” by Candace Evans (page 62). But we have miles to go before confidence in the schools is fully restored. Meanwhile, as the politicians creep toward solutions, families continue to vote with their wallets and moving vans, creating answers of their own.



One of those answers has long been pri-vate schools like St, Mark’s, Hockaday, Ursuline, Greenhill, and the rest. We’ve got thorough evaluations of these and other Dallas private schools and an in-depth look at the St. Mark’s School of Texas, arguably the Southwest’s finest college preparatory school. (An upcoming issue will exam -ine public and private schools in the suburbs.) By the way, “The St. Mark’s Mystique” (page 70) is a bookend of sorts to a story Prudence Mackintosh wrote for this magazine back in 1978, “Why Hockaday Girls are Different.” Readers who still call our office asking for copies of that story will be happy to find it, along with 10 other Mackintosh essays, in a forthcoming book called Just as We Were: A Narrow Slice of Texas Womanhood.

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EDITOR’S NOTE

By Mike Orren, Associate Publisher and Editorial Dire