The Breakfast Table

Ewing, Sprewell, and School Vouchers

Dear Cathy,

Of course, you are right about the complexity of the questions involved in deciding if and where and when and for whom the United States should exercise its military might if not strictly for causes of clear national interest. I agree with you completely about the nobility of the idea of natural (which is to say trans-cultural and trans-historical and trans-racial) rights, and was I acutely aware that my sketchy suggestion about defending Western-Judeo-Christian-liberal-democratic civilization could sound a lot like a rationale for helping only white people. Indeed, this thought was making me uneasy even as I keyed in my message. So, I am willing to grant your point that my suggestion was far too simple for such a complex problem. But I remain confused about this. Do we have strictly humanitarian obligations? If so, how do we decide to intervene in one situation and not in another? In Kosovo and not in Rwanda? Is it a question to some extent of viability? Maybe there was no way we could have played a constructive role in Rwanda? It seems hard enough in Kosovo, where we know who the bad guys are. Or am I just rationalizing a white Eurocentric bias that goes against the very Western idea of natural rights that I hold dear? But then again doesn’t this argument lead to humanitarian paralysis? We obviously can’t intervene in every situation of tyranny and genocide accross the globe. But does that mean we should not intervene in any? Can you help me with this?

And while I’m asking for help, I’d love to hear you flesh out the school vouchers idea a bit further. I am sympathetic to the idea in theory, and it seems as if it should at least be tried in a few states. But I don’t understand exactly what advocates of school vouchers envision. Will everyone go to private schools? Again, I have no problem with this idea in theory, but is it safe to assume that a private market of education will quickly evolve to a point where everyone may be accommodated? If not, what does happen to those who are not? Will states still be obliged to provide education for them? But if these schools are not really subject to market pressures, why should we assume that they will be better than the current ones? As I hope you can tell, I am interested in this idea and this issue, and open-minded about it, but not very well-informed. Can you help me on this one too?

And yes, I’m thrilled about the Knicks. They have needed a creative offensive player like Sprewell for years and years. It’s a pleasure now to watch them, especially when they win. I just hope that Patrick, God bless the old warrior, is not still harboring illusions that he will again be the go-to-guy when his Achilles’ heals (no pun intended).

Looking forward to hearing from you again.