The Florida governor is piping that message into our homes as part of a massive state-funded advertising campaign called "Read to Learn." The ads are aimed at families struggling under the stigma of a child's flunking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. And that's a lot of families. About 43,000 third-graders across the state, 23 percent of the total, failed the FCAT this past spring, 5,700 of them in Broward and Palm Beach counties. About 25,000 are expected to be held back from fourth grade this year.
Might sound grim, but Bush is answering the critics with the TV campaign. The first commercial, which began airing a couple of weeks ago, is titled: "A Florida Teacher Talks About the Benefits of a Student Repeating a Grade." In it, a pretty sixth-grade teacher named Jennifer Sillman, who works in Hillsborough County, tells of the virtues of failure.
"If we can find and identify the students who cannot read and fully comprehend what they are reading, if we can retain them and allow them the time to catch up, it will benefit them not only for the fourth grade but for all their future years in school."
On a state Department of Education-run Internet site, www.read-to-learn.org, there are testimonials from seven other educators and a couple of parents on the joys of flunking. All are expected to be broadcast in the coming weeks.
"Read to Learn" is a beautiful ploy. By focusing on a few success stories, Bush brushes aside an overwhelming body of research that shows "grade repetition," as the state sometimes calls it, is harmful to most students and greatly increases their chances of dropping out of school before graduation.
Bush knows that a well-placed (dis)information campaign trumps actual facts every time. It's a good slogan too, "Read to Learn," much better than the more obvious: "Leaving 25,000 Children Behind."
And Jeb's big brother, George, the president, is also adept at the art of wonderfully unscrupulous salesmanship, as his buildup to the Iraq war proved. And there are many more ad campaigns to come. I've obtained rough drafts of some (both Karl Rove and Jeb's chief counsel, Rocky Rodriguez, need to learn to lock their cars) and found them to be flat-out brilliant.
First, here's the president's future propaganda plans:
Title: The Benefits of the Bush Tax Cuts
Problem: A lot of folks are peeved that the vast majority of the benefits of the tax cuts are going to the richest people in the country. Some believe it's part of a plan to loot the government for our friends, dismantle the education department, and kill all the social programs. They are right, of course, but they mustn't think that anymore.
Spokesperson: H. Wayne Huizenga.
Script: "The tax cuts not only make me richer but also help my homeless center in Fort Lauderdale. Yes, the numbers of homeless have been rising steadily; we've seen increasing traffic at the Huizenga Family Campus of the Broward County Central Homeless Assistance Center. Watching those silly, sick, smelly bastards hobble up to suck on the government teat makes my eyes water. (It really is just water -- my tears haven't produced salt since I was 7. More efficient that way). The tax cut has also caused a rise in consumer consumption -- and we all know what that means. More garbage, baby. That's where Waste Management comes in. I'm cleaning up, literally. Ha ha.
"Was that a boo from the audience? Did I hear a boo? That was a joke, folks. Lighten up. You know what's relaxing? Buying a used car at Auto Nation for a low, low no-haggle price. Oh, and another thing: The Dolphins are going to win the Super Bowl this year. Finally, I can throw away that 'I Bought the Dolphins and All I Got Was a Lousy World Series Ring' T-shirt. The Super Bowl! Not bad for a half-sociopathic rich kid from Chicago, huh? Now give daddy that big juicy tax cut."
Title: The Benefits of Unemployment
Problem: Under the leadership of President Bush, the country's unemployment rates have hit their highest point in decades. This year alone, more than a half-million jobs have been lost. We need some positive spin on this issue.
Spokesperson: A well-kempt, good-looking fellow on a couch.
Script: "I have just two words for anyone who disses unemployment: daytime television. Think about it -- while you're toiling away at work, I'm hanging out with Regis and Ripa. It's da bomb, as they like to say on Rikki Lake. So maybe I haven't had a paycheck since I was fired five months ago, but at least I'm not knocking up women like them dogs on Maury. Am I right? Woof woof! And you know Doctor Phil cures all my ills, girlfriend! Hey, since we're talking here, can I move in with you? They're threatening to foreclose on my house in Boca. All's I need is a couch, a remote, and some Doritos, yo. I mean, unless NASA hires me back as chief safety engineer -- and, uh, I really doubt that's going to happen -- I'll just chizill at your pizad."