Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The 46-Year-Old Virgin

Maureen Dowd appears to skewer Sen. Obama in her Op Ed in today's NYT, but I actually think she's trying to help him.  She is basically telling him that his strategy against Sen. Clinton is flawed and that he will lose to her by a large margin unless it changes.  I think she's right.
This pundit, for one, needs hope as much as any American these days. But the only time I roll my eyes is when my hope is dashed that Obama will boldly take on Hillary, making his campaign more than cameras and mirrors and magazine covers.
How about boldly tackling the education issue?  It's not too late to recover from the pandering at the NEA convention.  For starters, stop bashing NCLB, which has done more for low-income, minority kids than any piece of legislation in decades, and come up with a plan to improve and strengthen it rather than letting it be watered down. 
For ideas on what a truly bold speech would look like, see this one Mayor Bloomberg gave to the Urban League in late July:  Here was my commentary on it:

This speech by Mayor Bloomberg is absolutely brilliant and spot on.  The fact that he's a Democrat (regardless of what he officially calls himself) serves to further underscore how utterly lame the Democratic presidential contenders' speeches were to the NEA a couple of weeks ago.  Oh, how I long for the day when one of them has the guts -- and wisdom -- to give a speech on education like this one!


You're probably scratching your head, saying: "What do you mean by wisdom?  Wouldn't it be political suicide for any Democrat to say even 10% of this to the NEA?"


This is indeed true for Hillary -- she's the prohibitive favorite and doesn't need to take any risks, at least given today's polls.  Unless something significant changes, she can put it on cruise control, coast to the nomination and then run to the center.  Thus, if I were her political advisor, I'd have told her to give the exact speech to the NEA that she did -- pander like crazy and only stick a toe in the water on reform (kudos for briefly mentioning her support of charter schools) and then quickly pull it out (caveats on no financial harm to the school district).


But I don't know what the other candidates are thinking.  The only strategy I think will beat Hillary is to use jujitsu to take advantage of her greatest strength -- but also greatest weakness: that she (and her husband) own the machinery of the Democratic Party and are unlikely to rock the boat.  (In fairness, I think Hillary is more of a centrist and reformer than people give her credit for, but it will be very hard for her to shake the perception that she's owned by special interests in the party.)


So the other candidates, facing the strong likelihood that Hillary's gonna steamroll them, need to take some risks and show that they're different and have courage by tackling some entrenched interests in their own party.  What better issue to do this than education?  More and more people understand that the system needs reform and who could argue with the ideas Mayor Bloomberg highlights below?  Who's going to criticize raising teacher salaries 43% if it's accompanied by accountability and reform?  Who (other than hard-core unionistas) thinks teachers shouldn't be evaluated, like everyone else in the country?  And who would oppose using these evaluations when making tenure, promotion or pay decisions?  And who thinks it should be nearly impossible to fire an ineffective teacher?


There's even a model in place for the candidates seeking to beat Hillary: her husband!  He was an obscure former governor of Arkansas running 5th in the polls, but was able to position himself as a New Democrat in part by embracing welfare reform and rode it all the way to the White House.


The parallels between welfare reform then and education reform now are striking: in both cases, they are emormous governmental systems that low-income minorities are especially dependent on -- but are increasingly screwed by.  In both cases, the systems initially worked reasonably well, but over time morphed into ever larger, unwieldy, unaccountable, bureaucratic and politicized monstrosities, with powerful, well-organized, well-funded, deeply entrenched interest groups defending the status quo.


Both issues are owned by the Democratic Party, but as the systems' failures became more widespread and well known, Republicans became more and more vocal in calling for reform -- and began to gain real political mileage from it.  Meanwhile, the entrenched interests wove themselves deeply into the Democratic Party and turned the party into the primary defender of the increasing indefensible status quo, even as the systems did increasing harm to the most loyal -- and vulnerable -- constituents of the party.


Republicans calling for reform were dismissed as having bad ideas (sometimes true), caring about the issue only for political gain rather than really caring about poor people/kids (also sometimes true) and/or attacking poor people or teachers, while Democrats who embraced reform were villified and called pawns of Republicans.


But one day, a very smart Democratic politician came along and said that embracing welfare reform -- in some ways, stealing the Republicans' best ideas -- was both the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do -- both for himself and the party.  Think about it -- who gets credit for welfare reform: Bill Clinton or the Republicans who were pounding on this issue long before he was?  And note that the Democratic Party is no longer losing voters by being typecast as the party defender welfare queens.


So when will one of the Democratic contenders wake up and smell the coffee?  I'm not holding my breath based on what I heard from the NEA convention -- maybe we'll have to wait another four or eight years -- but the optimist in me says it's still very early so stay tuned...

September 5, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

The 46-Year-Old Virgin


Barack Hussein Obama squinted into the New Hampshire sun to read a new speech on his teleprompter Monday and turned into William Jennings Bryan.

It isn’t a good fit. Obama is many things, but the Great Commoner ain’t one of them. Bryan gave a Cross-of-Gold speech, and Obama gave a Cross-of-Media speech.


Post a Comment

<< Home