Friday, December 26, 2008

Obama a Moderate?

The Wall Street Journal is a paragon of the Right, the perfect embodiment of the ideal of anti-leftist and anti-Liberal political thought. It bashes Democrats reflexively. Unfailingly, it does not like, and castigates, what Democrats stand for, do, and propose.

Today's lead editorial, Obama's Secretary of Earmarks - His Transportation nominee is a spending superstar, is typical.

Yet every once in a while it must admit that perhaps the world is not exactly as it sees and proposes. Witness an Op-Ed piece in today's edition: Obama Picks a Moderate on Education. Wha? Obama picked a moderate? Not a socialist? Whoa, Nelly.

Barack Obama picked Arne Duncan only partly for his skills on the basketball court. As secretary of education, he will be running one of the administration's most important finesse games.

The Obama administration will have a number of basketball players. Maybe the could challenge Putin to a five-on-five.

Considering the reviews from the right and the left, you might be confused about whether Mr. Duncan is a signal that Mr. Obama's administration is lining up behind the reformers or supporting the status quo.

He does support concepts that were anathema to liberals until recently; many liberals still don't dare buck the teacher's union, nor support ideas that conservatives champion. Yet some young idealists in the Democratic party want to recapture what should always have been a natural issue for Democrats: helping underprivileged kids get out of failing public schools.

I am not young, but I do think change is needed. Charter schools? Maybe so. But I still wonder why public education is not reformed internally, rather than letting remain a failing system.

Mr. Duncan is certainly no bomb thrower. Thank goodness for that.

A group called Democrats for Education Reform ... are part of the growing voice for reform in the party. DFER is known to cheer Democrats brave enough to support charter schools and other methods of extending options to parents. Joe Williams, the group's executive director, predicted that Mr. Duncan will help break the "ideological and political gridlock to promote new, innovative and experimental ideas."

Three cheers for that. And for this: Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., said that "As Democrats we have been wrong on education, and it's time to get it right."

Michelle Rhee is Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor (and über reformer). She has closed schools, fired teachers, proposed bonuses. Idea the union reflexively, and (I'd say) stupidly opposes.

Washington, D.C.'s Adrian Fenty, a strong backer of Ms. Rhee's effort to negotiate tough terms with the unions, remarked that the politics of school reform are changing fast.

Others are getting on board: Jesse Jackson Jr., Representative James Clyburn of S.C. are two of those challenging the orthodoxy.

It's all a bit delicate, which makes Mr. Duncan Mr. Obama's man for a good reason. He's known for a flexibility that allows him to float between the traditional Democratic strongholds and the new wave of reformers in the party. With proper implementation, Mr. Obama could accomplish on education reform what President Bill Clinton did for welfare reform – taking a previously Republican issue and transforming it from within the left.

Clearly the field of education needs to be shaken up, changed, reconstituted. Even when my kids were in enriched programs (with a disgusting school plant that included faded shades and ugly, beat up desks), I wondered why every kid in the educational system was not getting the same education.

Mr. Duncan is a reformer at heart, if one who works collegially within the system. But in the end, much will depend on his boss. Whether Mr. Obama is an artful fence walker or a real agent of change – on schools or anything else – is a mystery the coming year may finally clear up.

The man is not even in office and some are already criticizing Obama; even this WSJ person (a senior editorial writer at the Journal), who wants to give him some slack can not end without expressing some skepticism. She will be surprised.

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