Congressman Miller treated us to a legislative drama on October 10, 2007. Make no mistake about it; his hearings were a first class, top quality, orchestrated high drama that was executed perfectly. All parties played their parts as he intended, making the emotional impact compelling enough to brush aside logic, reason, rationality, fairness and inconsistent facts. This is not intended to belittle the tragedy of the three parents who testified; those are real tragedies and all facts regarding those specific circumstances should be fully exposed. This is just to point out that their specific stories were useful to Congressman Miller's ambitions.
Lon Woodbury begins
For an overview of the status of American youth, it is obvious many American teens are in trouble. The increasing incidents of attempted suicides, addictions, drug overdoses and poor preparation for adulthood, although still only a minority, are appalling. In response, vast resources are being put into residential attempts to help these teens, with mixed results and some tragedies, which I try to document in the Breaking News section of my website www.strugglingteens.com/news/news.html
. I have talked with hundreds of therapists, attorneys, judges and parents who, for their children, are fleeing the all too frequent inhumane treatment found in public run and public-private residential facilities under the juvenile justice system, and state mental health residential facilities (For the most appalling example go to www.strugglingteens.com/news/florida_bootcamp-index.html
, a public boot camp facility with both federal and state money, regulation and oversight, which was not seriously talked about in the Congressman Miller Hearings). The parents and professionals I have talked with often seem like refugees from public programs, people who are looking for quality private facilities and want to avoid the poor quality private programs. Any professional and experienced Educational Consultant will know about the poor programs, can steer the parent toward the ones with good reputations for effective and safe work and would love to see the poor private programs shut down.
Lon Woodbury continues
With this national concern and activity as a backdrop, have you ever wondered why some legislation becomes law while other legislation languishes? Ignore your old high school civics lessons; they don't have much to do with it. In reality, the process most often used has been fine tuned over the decades, which consists of a few simple steps. When carried out successfully, not only does the legislation become law but the author of the legislation becomes famous. Bridges, schools and buildings are often subsequently named after him or her, and he/she is praised as a distinguished leader, all because he/she managed to get landmark legislation passed. The basis of all this opportunity for congressional fame and fortune is that we the voters want a problem fixed. That's what we elect him/her to do. Congressman Miller was obviously following these basic steps in his bid for Congressional fame by starting a process to solve a carefully crafted definition of a problem.
Lon Woodbury explains
THE CONGRESSIONAL STEPS TO FAME AND FORTUNE
Find a problem to fix! Find some tragedy, unjustness, abuse or similar thing that the average person would say, "That's not right!" This isn't hard. In an imperfect world where accidents and unforeseen events are around every corner, in a diverse country of a third of a billion people and having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, opportunities are all around you.
Find a constituency. In this vast country, everybody is upset about something, and some of them can be enlisted in the good fight to conquer some perceived ill of the world through your legislation. Work with them and convince them you are on their side. If you are clever, you can even convince bitter enemies to join with each other to support you in solving this overriding concern you are refining.
Define/ Identify: Define the issue and identify a culprit (target of the planned legislation). Don't let conflicting facts confuse the issue. Your definition should be clear and simple, suitable for a sound bite on the news. If simple enough to fit on a bumper sticker, that is even better. The chosen culprit must be vulnerable to being painted very darkly (facts and fairness have little to do with it, popular emotional perspectives are key - demonization is all-too-frequently the politics of choice in current American politics). Blur boundaries so that entirely different and competing approaches and philosophies that work with what is perceived as the same population can be lumped together. This gives you additional sources of ammunition and the tragedies of the non-targeted group can be used to confront the targeted group. That will put the defenders of the targeted group off balance. This also makes more effective the use of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" type questions, which are impossible to answer in the short sound bites favored by the media. So long as you can continue to define the issue and prevent defenders from establishing their definition, you will maintain the initiative.
Reassure: In preparing for the initial hearings, reassure the defenders of the targeted group that you want to be fair. Reassure them that they will have a chance to present their case, and that you just want to get to the bottom of these problems. Reassure them you want to work with them to eliminate the abuses they and all responsible people want to prevent. Be sure you keep your targeted group's focus narrow enough that associated groups working with the same or similar population feel unthreatened and so avoid defending the targeted group.
Alert the Media: Let the media know that there will be enough sensationalism and drama to satisfy them for days. Since the media nowadays is more inclined to parrot official offerings than to dig behind the story, especially of sensational drama, they will be there in full force. At this point all will be in readiness for the first preliminary public hearings.
Public Hearings: These hearings are ostensibly a preliminary report on research to determine if the problem is serious enough to warrant further research, future hearings and possible legislation. In actuality, this is drama, and you will know exactly what will be presented, the appearance and impact it will have, and already have in mind follow-up actions to further the cause and produce more headlines.
Selection of the testimony to be given is vital. This stage is purely emotion driven. Logic, reason or rationality has little or nothing to do with it. The deeper and more sensational the tragedy, the more effective and useful it is and the more impact on the public, resulting in expanding your constituency and chances of passing legislation. The most powerful image is of a parent grieving their lost child. Nothing he or she says can be challenged. Better yet is when some of the testimony also is directed against a program respected by the defenders, undermining the defender's sincerity and credibility.
Ambush is the term for the most effective approach. In the House, the minority party is usually kept out of the loop so they can be caught off guard and be unable to challenge the tone of the hearings. It is hoped the defenders of the targeted group will also be caught off guard and will appear to be confused, defensive and ineffective.
Follow-up: Acting like this is the first time you have heard these outrages, you can use the tragedies presented as a foundation in expressing righteous indignation and call for further research to get to the bottom of the cause of these tragedies, push any action that might currently be within the power of the federal government and work to expand your constituency among people who are outraged by the emotion-driven revelations they have just heard.
Lon Woodbury challenges
Stay tuned as Congressman Miller's drama unfolds. Since there is never a second chance to make a good first impression, the tone of the just completed hearings will strongly influence subsequent happenings. Will there be more focus on public program tragedies in the next round? Will definitions become more accurate? Will representatives of private programs be given a full and adequate chance to present their case? Will satisfied parents or alumni be called on to give balance for accuracy? Don't count on it.
The irony is few make the connection that in the October 10th hearings, they have just watched a polished politician in action providing a carefully orchestrated drama--a drama in this case that is intended to bring wholly private programs under the federal government influence just as juvenile justice and state mental health facilities already are. The possibility exists that this Federal legislation, if passed, would very well force private programs to start looking and acting more like their public counterparts. If this happens, parents will be the losers (and by extension their children) in having fewer choices, all in the name of protecting "the children."
please print this, or will you be onsided like the essay claims Mr. Miller is.
I for one agree with the hearings while i was not totally impreseed i would have liked to heard about some kids stories firsthand, either positive or negitive. I think all programs should be federally regulated as some has shown they cant be trusted. While there may be a small handfull of good programs most are bad and should be shut down. It only takes one or two bad apples to ruin a barrel. What would be so bad about requiring all programs to be licesened and monitered for abuse? Or requieing escorts be monited and background checks on them. Would you want a man who addmitted to child mostation to easort your daughter? What is so bad about regulations to protect our children? Is making more money either by referal fees or tution more important than standing up for programs to go unregulated?
October 24, 2007
Hi Lon--Right on, Right on, and Right on!!!!!!!!!!
This is how they, the polished politicians and their bureaucratic institutions such as the U.S. Dept. of Mis-Education, have ambushed the public and it's schools and other community activities for the past 40 years or so. I had a professor at Auburn University several decades ago in a class called "Social Problems" make a statement, that at the time did not sink in immediately. His statement was that, "Whenever you create an Agency or Dept. to deal with a perceived "Social Problem", not only will that perceived social problem not go away or even improve, it is guaranteed to grow worse and the number of "victims" will increase as the Agency or Dept. builds it's empire status and grows larger and larger and more and more ingrained as an "institution or arm" of government that "fixes" social ills and problems." Look at LBJ's "Great Society" programs that helped dismantle families and created Social Welfare systems that damaged families and the American Work Ethic. The agencies and departments have continued to expand. Head Start and other worthless programs began taking children in at earlier and earlier ages, and the Official Government Brainwashing of our children began. All of this was touted as a "good thing" giving the "poor underprivileged children" a fast track at success. Nonsense......And of course, by this time, they had already created a class of Social Welfare Recipients who had already abandoned the work ethic, and also the non-working parents. Meanwhile, over time, the U.S. Education Dept. was established in 1978, and it has all been down hill from there as far as making our education better. It has, of course worsened, and every time they Mandate By Blackmail some new policy, it worsens. Now, we have an educational system that not only does not work to educate, it mis-educates, and destroys children and families, as the children are brainwashed to accept values that go against family values and pits the state against the family, and the state with all its resources (our tax dollars) always wins, and these Senators, Congressmen (women) put on dramas and the band plays on.
I am grateful that Lon Woodbury does the work that he does to educate people and to help families get the help for their children by finding and recommending good programs. For good programs to remain good and effective, we have to insure that the state or federal governments never get any kind of control over them. Some states, such as Georgia, have already become carbon copies of the Federal System, and have gotten their hands in private programs and of course, have muddled them. The government does nothing very well, and we certainly do not want them to mandate what private schools that work can do. Of course, bad schools and programs need to be weeded out, but they will weed themselves out in the market. If they are not working, they will fold. If you make them dependent on Government Money, they will last forever and do worse and worse jobs, because the government agency overseeing them will let them go on and on as long as they claim they are fixing the problem. No, we don't need the Government to oversee anything that works, unless we want to insure they never will work effectively.
As always, thanks for all you do Lon.
M. Jerome Ennis, M.ed./Emotional/Behavioral Disorders & Social Sciences
October 24, 2007
Great article! I see a little of your sarcasm coming through. Thanks for all your help and support.
October 23, 2007
Thanks Lon. Great article. Lets hope the inquisition slows down enough to actually understand the importance and reality of private residential treatment for adolescents failing dangerously in their toxic community environments.
October 23, 2007
Thank you for being a champion of individual and families rights. I appreciate your examination of the motivation for undertaking such a bill. I have friends and family who asked me why such a bill comes up and will it go through. I have struggled to accurately portray what your article was able to do
Keep up the fight
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