By Tom Ehrich

I had a sinking feeling when conservatives in Congress immediately began building a case against expanding the availability of pre-school education.

On the one hand, their case was familiar: another program that might boost the federal deficit and create an entitlement constituency. That case won’t stand much scrutiny, as the economic benefits of better early-childhood education far outweigh its up-front cost, but it isn’t overtly offensive.

The just-below-the-surface argument that this entitlement constituency might vote Democratic was sadly familiar, too.

The deeper and unspoken case, however, is disturbing. Education can mean entry into the middle class. Upward mobility boosts tax revenues and consumer spending, but it also means more people who consider themselves worthwhile and their freedom worth defending.

A wealth-centered movement hell-bent on creating downward mobility, so that more wealth flows upward to the few, won’t want poor children to learn and to advance. If anything, they want more children to descend into ignorance and poverty, as now seems to have been the subtext of No Child Left Behind all along.

Thus, sabotage public schools. Deny funding to public universities. Prevent too many citizens from becoming truly educated. Never mind the personal and economic damage that this strategy causes.

Waging war on poor children on the pretext of preserving individual freedom and promoting sound fiscal policy takes hypocrisy to a new level.