What's at Stake in This Election
I'm glad you followed up about the election, and I was impressed to hear how much you are doing to get the vote out. I've been involved too in some local and regional races. It's hard for me to think about anything else these days. So much is at stake today, and I'm worried that Barack Obama may suffer from a loss of enthusiasm at the polls.
Mitt Romney has done an amazing job at re-creating himself during this campaign. He went from
a "severe right" being a "severely conservative" (his words) Republican during the primaries to a moderate during this fall's election. His campaign manager told us this would happen, calling it an "etch-a-sketch" move. But it should be clear to anyone paying attention that if the Republicans win this election education the Tea Party will be driving the administration hard to the right, and the social safety net for children (and adults) will be in serious trouble. Under the guise of balancing the budget, they will cut away at every major program in education, including Head Start, Title I, Trio programs like Upward Bound, and Pell grants. Romney hasn't spoken too much about education except for touting his accomplishments as governor in Massachusetts. Anyone familiar with that history knows that he can't claim the credit (or the blame) for the successes and failures in that state. Paul Ryan, on the other hand, has staked out very clear positions on education, and it is undeniable that he and other Tea Party politicians regard education as an expensive entitlement rather than an investment in our nation's children.
I've already explained why I think Obama deserves a second term based on his record in education. Although I have been critical of several of his administration's policy initiatives in education, like Race to the Top, I don't think the administration has received the credit it deserves for bailing out the states with stimulus funds and preventing the layoffs of thousands of teachers. I guess the New Yorker had it right in the editors' recent endorsement of Obama's re-election: There is very little credit given for harm averted. But to be fair, it's more than that. In addition to preventing even more severe cuts to education, the administration has helped millions of college students by keeping interest payments for loans down and tripling the number of people who can participate in AmeriCorps service programs. Given the strength of the opposition by Republicans in Congress, these are not minor accomplishments. The administration may not have delivered the change we hoped for or needed, but it clearly has done a lot for American education in four years.
If we can assume that Obama will win, and to be honest, despite recent polls I'm unwilling to take an Obama victory for granted, we are going to have to think about how to apply more pressure on the administration after the election to influence its direction. It was a mistake to ever think that compelling arguments alone would be enough to get the administration to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to take effective action to address climate change, or to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act and chart a new direction for public education. For those things to occur there must be a movement that is broad-based and independent of either major party. Such a movement does not yet exist, though clearly there are lots of people—educators, parents, and others, who are ready for one.
The administration must be pushed through grassroots organizing to do the right thing. The combination of Republican opposition and influential lobbyist pushing for the narrow reform agenda that presently dominates American education can only be countered by a movement that focuses on strengthening and improving public education.
I hope you made it through Hurricane Sandy without too much discomfort. We just got water, heat, and lights after nearly a week without those basics. Of course, compared with many people in places like Far Rockaway, Staten Island, Long Island, and the Jersey shore who lost homes and lives, we got off easy. Almost 60 schools in New York City are still closed, and life in New York City is far from normal.
(Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this blog post, the author misstated Gov. Mitt Romney's self-characterization. The post has been corrected to reflect his actual quote.)