''Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone''
-- Joni Mitchell, ''Big Yellow Taxi''
Some conservatives are prematurely salivating over President Barack Obama's declining poll numbers. According to a recent Gallup daily tracking poll, ''the nine-point drop in the most recent quarter is the largest Gallup has ever measured for an elected president between the second and third quarters of his term, dating back to 1953.'' That may comfort some Obama opponents, but three years is a long time until the next presidential election so conservatives and Republicans (not always the same) had better think of a long-range strategy if they want to save the country from the long-term consequences of what many call ''socialism.''
Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation offers one component of that strategy in his new book, ''We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future.'' Spalding believes, ''America is unique in that universal principles of liberty are the foundation of its particular system of government and its political culture.'' He lists them and explains their history: liberty, private property, consent of the governed, equality, natural rights, religious freedom, rule of law, constitutionalism.''
Middle-aged and older Americans recall that these subjects were part of their high school and college curricula. Younger Americans may be less familiar with them, as the public schools no longer seem to emphasize what once held us together, preferring to teach ''diversity'' instead.
Six years ago, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced a bill to require a greater emphasis on American history and civics in public school classrooms. Alexander quoted Federal Judge Aleta Trauger, who spoke at a swearing-in ceremony for 77 new citizens in Nashville: ''We are Americans because we also share certain fundamental beliefs. We are bound together by the unique set of principles set forth in documents that created and continue to define this nation. We find our heritage and inspiration in the profound words of the Declaration of Independence: 'All people are created equal and endowed with unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' We pledge allegiance to the Republic as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. But the greatest expression of our national identity is the constitution of the United States which established the responsibilities and rights that go with citizenship.''
All true in the past, but what if today's schools no longer teach those principles and the Constitution is not supreme? What then?
Last week in New York City, the Children's Scholarship Fund held a dinner in honor of Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Charter Network, which operates four charter schools serving about 1,500 students in Harlem. One of the speakers was Jaime Martinez, an eighth-grader who was rescued, along with his sister, Ashley, from a failing public school where he says he experienced bullying and fighting. Jaime's grades are up at his Catholic private school; he sings in a choir and takes ballroom dancing lessons. (See his remarks at www.scholarshipfund.org.)
CSF President Darla Romfo wants the education conversation to go ''beyond arguments about vouchers, charter schools and test scores into the newer territory of empowering parents and children with real information about how to choose schools and demand excellence, with the ultimate aim of expanding good options for every child.''
It is this objective that should be embraced by those wishing to ''reclaim America,'' not only for ourselves, but also for future generations.
If conservatives and Republicans support an exodus from public schools as a strategic goal, they will strike at the heart of liberalism, while simultaneously liberating minorities trapped in failed government schools. To free them and teach them about America and its promise of hope will produce everything they are looking for but can't find in politics. It will also pay political dividends as children and their parents see which party and persuasion cares about them enough to bring real change to their lives.
It's either this approach, with results, or continuing to put faith in politicians, who have proved themselves unworthy of such faith. If parents fail to act, they won't know what they had 'til it's gone.
E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.