2013-12-13 / Columnists

School Scope

On Poverty, Education, Labor: Is Obama Really a Liberal?
By Norm Scott


Norman Scott Norman Scott As a lefty/progressive (don’t dare call me a liberal), family events like Thanksgiving with a mostly conservative/tea party family can be either enervating or energizing, depending on who ends up with a bowl of cranberry sauce on his head. Obama is a major bone of contention with most of the family viewing him as a wild-eyed radical looking to take away their hard-earned money and hand it out on street corners in the poorest neighborhoods. Being an Obama critic from the left, I see him as a promoter of crony capitalism (socialism for the 1 percent) looking to give away our hard-earned income to his corporate and wealthy supporters.

One of my favorite NY Times columnists, Paul Krugman, touched on this issue in his December 6th column, “Obama Gets Real.” Krugman has criticized Obama from the left for going along with the Republican “deficit scolds” by agreeing that the major problem facing this nation was the deficit, not the high unemployment rate, with Obama mainly differing from Republicans over how much to cut, not how much we needed to spend to create jobs. Krugman now claims Obama’s recent speech on inequality is a sign he is back to his progressive roots. “Now…we have the president of the United States breaking ranks, finally sounding like the progressive many of his supporters thought they were backing in 2008. This is going to change the discourse — and, eventually… actual policy.”

Krugman ignores the gap between Obama’s rhetoric and action. Take education and labor policy. Obama and his Education Czar, Arne Duncan, and the rest of the pack of education deformers, have spent five years pushing the idea that the key to reducing poverty is education – keyed on getting higher quality teachers and removing weaker teachers, with judgments based on standardized tests – a ludicrous idea that somehow has been accepted by both political parties, most journalists, and most of the public.

Mr. Obama laid out a disturbing — and, unfortunately, all too accurate — vision of an America losing touch with its own ideals, an erstwhile land of opportunity becoming a class-ridden society. Not only do we have an ever-growing gap between a wealthy minority and the rest of the nation; we also, he declared, have declining mobility, as it becomes harder and harder for the poor and even the middle class to move up the economic ladder…

One of my relatives said on Thanksgiving, “If you take away the safety net they (the lazy, shiftless 47 percent of the nation who are moochers) will find jobs.” I must send him this video from Real News: “1 out of three Bank Tellers in NY on Public Assistance” (tinyurl.com/ muy2wbz). You see, actual working people can’t make it without help.

“The president was willing to assign much of the blame for rising inequality to bad policy....,” Krugman writes. Whose bad policy? Did Race to the Top come from Republicans? Billions of dollars down the tubes for testing, merit pay, evaluation of teachers, consultants, etc. instead of real education reforms and fighting to reduce poverty so kids will have the kind of home environment that will support them in school.

The “new and exciting” idea? Raise the minimum wage and restore labor’s bargaining power. I’m all for it. The shock is that Obama actually mentioned labor after 5 years of turning his back on unions and engaging in drone attacks on teachers and blaming union rules for the problems in education.

Krugman doesn’t address the gap between Obama rhetoric and action, especially when it comes to educational policy. Obama/Duncan and the rest of the pack of ed deformers have pushed the neoliberal market-based model. Sure, you can solve the poverty/inequality issue merely by getting better teachers.

Let’s see Obama offer to bail out Detroit where public employee pension theft is taking place which will result in growing poverty and the inequality gap. Has Obama condemned the assault on the Chicago school system by his pal, Rahm Emanuel? When he does, Krugman can start talking about Obama returning to his progressive roots.

The Clinton/Obama rightward wing of the Democratic Party, “Third Way Democrats,” are facing an energized left led by Elizabeth Warren and given hope by the de Blasio victory (don’t count the chickens just yet). The NYT reported, “In a sign of the left’s new aggressiveness, a coalition of liberals is trying to marginalize a centrist Democratic policy group that was responsible for a Wall Street Journal op-ed article this week that said economic populism was ‘disastrous’ for the party.” Is a tea party brewing on the left? Was Obama’s “inequality” speech a rhetorical response to protect Hillary Clinton’s flank? Oh, what fun when politics becomes more of a contact sport than the NFL. Just watch out for those head injuries.

Norm blogs way too often at ednotesonline.org

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