If you’ve never read Superman comics or watched “Seinfeld,” let me tell you a little about Bizarro World.
In Bizarro World, up is down, black is white, ugly is beautiful. Listening to the Google+ “Fireside Hangout” on Thursday afternoon with Vice President Joe Biden got me thinking about this inverted universe, where everything is the opposite of the real world.
It started out well enough. Biden played to his reputation as plain-spoken and likable to pitch the President’s new policy proposals for reducing gun violence. He peppered the chat with stories about his family’s hunting traditions. He said the administration was taking concrete steps to tackle gun-related crime, including supporting an assault weapons ban, and urged federal laws against gun trafficking.
Then he got the money question from Kimberley Blaine, a parent and mental-health practitioner, who asked Biden about plans to increase school safety and improve mental-health initiatives. In response, he opened with a promo for the administration’s Project AWARE, which is meant to help teachers and mental health specialists identify students in need of intervention. So far, so good.
Then this happened.
Wait, whoa! What?!
The Vice President’s passionate call for friendly, unarmed, uniformed guards sounds idyllic. After all, who could disagree with Officer Clemmons, befriending students, and generally bringing rays of sunshine to all who need it.
There’s just one problem: this isn’t Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – and school resource officers are armed guards. In schools, law enforcement personnel are commonly known as resource officers. Just one example of the edu-babble that pervades our public education system. But I digress. If Biden and Obama “do not believe in armed guards in schools,” they have a weird way of showing it.
Included in the President’s gun violence reduction executive actions is a call for 1,000 new school resource officers, described in the White House plan as “specially trained police officers that work in schools.” When is the last time you saw an unarmed cop outside Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe?
Maybe this semantic bob-and-weave by Biden was prompted in part by criticism from civil rights groups, educators and law enforcement representatives who say police in schools, while well-intentioned, can lead to negative consequences that are felt most sharply in schools with large numbers of Black, Hispanic and poor children. Or maybe he’s learned that research shows “no discernible link” between armed guards and safer schools.
But this isn’t Bizarro World where everything is opposite and backwards. You can emphasize mental health services for students. You can push the flexibility in the President’s plan, between hiring cops or psychologists. But you can’t sit there with a straight face and say “armed guards in schools would be a terrible mistake” when the White House plan encourages that very “mistake.”
Of course, in the real world, politicians would speak honestly and forthrightly. And this sleight-of-hand wouldn’t go unnoticed, because journalists would have read the President’s gun control plan, be familiar with its contents, and challenge the Vice President’s statement, allowing him to retract or clarify.
Oh well. Bizarro World it is.