Gregoire the Globalizer

Unquestioningly, the governor preaches a corporate view of competitiveness.

Christine Gregoire might have won the governorship of Washington by only a few votes in 2004's disputed election, but that's not stopping her from acting as though she has a mandate. If you listen to her speeches around the state these days—or read the ones posted on her Web site—you might get the impression that instead of being chief executive of a medium-sized state in a far corner of the continental U.S., she's prime minister of an independent country.

She name-drops about recent meetings with heads of state like China's president, Hu Jintao and Mexico's president, Vincente Fox, and she even touts a memorandum of understanding she recently signed with the deputy premier of Queensland, Australia. "Washington is a major player on the world stage," she tells one audience. To another, she claims, "We are more like a small nation, not a state."

The conservative blogosphere might be onto something in referring to her as Queen Christine.

Gregoire is not the first state official to don the mantle of global ambassador for Washington state. Recent governors, secretaries of state, and even the lieutenant governor have happily gone junketing around the world to carry the state flag in the name of trade and economic development, despite having no official or constitutional charge to do so. But Gregoire isn't merely trying to sell more software, jets, or apples. She envisions a fundamental remaking of state government's core mission, which up to now has been to educate the populace, into one that engages globalization. She's not preaching to heads of state abroad, she's spreading the message to students and Rotary clubs here at home.

I became aware of Gregoire's global mandate after listening to her commencement address at the Evergreen State College in Olympia Friday, June 16. I was attending to watch my daughter graduate. Evergreen is also my alma mater. Unlike Mossback, my daughter seems intent on doing good in the world.

The ceremony was classic Evergreen—a blend of the tradition and individualism that are at the core of the school's somewhat oxymoronic mission: to nurture individuality. At its worst, Evergreen can be an echo chamber demanding ideological conformity in the name of political correctness. As a school that opened its doors in 1971, it was one of the incubators of the PC movement. Yet paradoxically, Evergreen's curriculum, which permits a wide range of individualized tracks, undercuts the institution's worst attributes. It is hard to create a PC utopia among nonconformists. Thank goodness.

In keeping with school tradition, the graduation speaker, Gregoire, was protested by a number of students who had tried to get the college to uninvite her. They disagree with her crackdown on welfare recipients who aren't working hard enough to get off the dole. The school refused to cancel her in the name of "diversity," and despite a mostly silent protest against her presence—some wore signs, some turned their backs on her as she spoke—she was largely treated with courtesy and heard without heckling.

Which was too bad.

Her commencement address was largely boilerplate and weirdly inappropriate for the audience. It was almost exclusively on globalization, which could have made for a gutsy kind of Sister Souljah moment, I suppose. Gregoire comes into a den of ideologues who might have protested WTO to make the case for why they are wrong. But Gregoire's talk merely asserted that globalization was a reality that should be embraced: It's here, get used to it. Technology has given us all kinds of modern wonders, but we're unprepared for the demands of 21st-century competition, she said. Washington needs an education system that produces a competitive global workforce, presumably the kind Starbucks, Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft are looking for.

She didn't even attempt to address the potential downsides of globalization, instead smearing it with a progressive, Panglossian gloss. To compete globally, "Washington needs clean water, clean air and soil—healthy people, communities, and workplaces."

Really? Isn't there ample evidence that globalization often produces exactly the opposite results—that being stampeded under the banner of competitiveness has led to environmental degradation, depletion of natural resources, and economic displacement? Isn't globalization more often a code word for breaking unions, gutting trade laws, and busting economic systems that aren't in compliance with American concepts of free markets and free trade?

And should it really be the mission of our schools to churn out drones for a global workforce? I don't know how many times she used the word competitive, but it was enough to demonstrate she didn't get Evergreen, a state-funded alternative school that stands in defiance to the very corporate-driven values Gregoire espouses.

She seemed utterly clueless about it. As clueless as other global cheerleaders, like Thomas Friedman, whom she cited. The New York Times columnist and author of The World Is Flat is a guy who sees globalization through the rosy-hued glasses they hand out in airport VIP lounges.

After the speech, I went to read it on the governor's Web site, but it wasn't posted yet. But I found a number of other recent speeches in which she hit the same themes. When I clicked on her commencement speech at Yakima Valley Community College, given a week earlier, I realized that the reason her speech seemed so out of context at Evergreen was that it was essentially the same speech she'd given in Yakima, which was simply an expanded version of her basic chamber of commerce speech.

I guess Evergreeners can take solace in the fact that at least Gregoire the global cheerleader believes in recycling.

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