MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Sometimes you don't need to study the polls to know a campaign is in trouble.
You just need to read a headline such as this one from Monday: "Paul Ryan on Chicago teachers strike: ‘We stand with Rahm Emanuel.'" In fact, Mitt Romney has also endorsed Emanuel in his stand-off with the Chicago Teachers Union.
As the conservative magazine Commentary writes of this seemingly odd praise for the mayor of Chicago:
A week after Rahm Emanuel decided to extend his services to his former boss, President Barack Obama, in order to do some fundraising, this was probably the last headline he expected to read. At midnight Monday the Chicago Teachers Union announced that it would begin an indefinite strike, which would only end when their contract dispute with the city of Chicago is settled.
Of course, some of the strategists at the Romney campaign thought that endorsing Emanuel's adversarial stance with the union would be a way of implying that Obama was a friend of the unions and teachers. But ask teachers about the Obama administration and most of them will probably tell you that he and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been a big disappointment.
The Obama administration, while endorsing education in theory, has pretty much peddled the same notion that the Bush administration did: teachers are to blame for students who drop out or don't achieve good test scores. Duncan is a big supporter of charter and privatized schools -- the corporatization of education. In short, while there are some particulars relating to the Chicago strike, Emanuel is just basically reflecting the Obama administration in his stance toward the Chicago Teachers Union. (Arne Duncan headed the Chicago Board of Education for awhile under the former Mayor Daley, it should be noted.)
In many articles and columns, BuzzFlash and Truthout have detailed how blaming teachers in poor neighborhoods (primarily urban and rural) for not being able to get kids who face gangs, poverty and abuse into college is just a way of denying the reality of poverty and racism.
After all, there is no educational crisis in upper middle class and wealthy school districts. The only immediate critical need is for more funding – particularly now in higher education.
But this commentary is about political strategy: both Romney and Obama have a "blame the teachers" approach when it comes to education in areas of economic need (although they claim, as the Bush administration did, that there is an outcome crisis nationally. That plays better politically). Obama stayed away from actively supporting public employees – including teachers – in their revolt against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's crushing of collective bargaining. Obama's administration played almost no role in the successful 2-1 referendum reversal of a similar law in Ohio.
However, like many progressives who have serious doubts about Obama's fiscal centrism and many of his policies, most union members are going to vote for him because the only other option is a party without any pretense of crushing unions completely. Furthermore, the bailout of the auto industry represented a difference on union jobs between the two parties, even if the Obama administration is erratic at best in publicly supporting unions (although the Department of Labor has clearly been more union friendly than under the Bush administration).
So when the Romney campaign endorses Rahm Emanuel, who served as chief of staff under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, they are in effect backing Obama's high-level insider policy surrogate.
Presidential campaigns don't convey messages subtly. When Romney and Ryan say that they support Emanuel, most Americans know that Emanuel is tied at the hip with Obama. Romney and Ryan might as well have endorsed Obama's educational policies.
A CNN article on the strike begins,
The hard-nosed stance taken by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the Chicago teachers' strike dovetails with the education goals of his former boss, President Barack Obama, but observers disagreed Monday over how well it serves the city's schoolchildren.
Critics such as Fordham University professor Mark Naison say Emanuel is slavishly following the Obama administration's educational policies to the detriment of children and teachers.
Emanuel responded to the politically maladroit "backing" by Romney and Ryan with this statement:
While I appreciate Mitt Romney’s statement on behalf of the kids and the parents of the city of Chicago, if he wants to help, he could then determine that when it comes to his tax cut, he will never cut the Department of Education and the funding that’s necessary, and he will make sure that there will never be a cut in any education to pay for his tax cuts for the most fortunate. So while I appreciate his lip service, what really counts is what we’re doing here, and I don’t really give two hoots about national comments scoring political points or trying to embarrass, or whatever, the president.
The president is committed, has done one of the most important things with Race to the Top, to make sure that we have accountability in our system and the best-qualified teachers in our schools and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here. As a person who helped negotiate that and the first funding for it, and who helped devise it with the president, Melody Barnes and Arne Duncan, and then sought the resources to make sure it became a reality, nothing could be more helpful to the city of Chicago than what the president did with Race to the Top.
So the Romney campaign wasted a day backing the White House's educational policies, by supporting Rahm Emanuel, thus giving Obama credibility with the pro-privatization, anti-public union voters, while giving Emanuel an opening to attack the GOP ticket on the overall funding of education.
Lord, it is hard to believe that people get paid to advise candidates to make political pratfalls such as this one. The endorsement allowed Obama the opportunity to sit back and benefit from voter perception on both sides of the strike without saying a word.
That's political malfeasance on the part of the Romney campaign.
(Photo by Christopher Dilts)