Posted by David A. Lehrer
Yesterday, Ruth Seymour, the long-time general manager of, and the creative force behind NPR radio station KCRW, announced that she will retire next spring. Her retirement provides an opportunity to note what an important contribution she, KCRW and its sister NPR station, KPCC, make to our community and our sanity.
KCRW and Ruth are being lionized for the eclectic mix of programming that is the station’s hallmark—-cutting-edge music programs, public radio standards (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, etc.) and locally generated broadcasts (Which Way LA?, Left, Right and Center, etc.) and rightfully so.
However, I think Ruth’s most significant contribution is the locally generated programs that offer a nearly extinct species of local broadcasting—-thoughtful discussion of important issues with an intelligent, articulate and informed host. KCRW’s two standout local efforts hosted by Warren Olney are Which Way LA? and To The Point. Both are Ruth creations.
I distinctly remember hosting an ADL leadership retreat in Palm Springs on the weekend of the Los Angeles riots in April, 1992; our scholar-in-residence was Warren Olney, known then as a thoughtful commentator on LA issues and a charming, erudite guy. He told us on the Saturday of the weekend that he had to leave a bit early because he had received a call from Ruth who had asked him to host a special “short term” broadcast later that week that was tentatively titled, “Which Way LA?” The rest is history.
The role of Which Way LA?, Warren Olney, Larry Mantle’s Airtalk on KPCC and Patt Morrison with her daily broadcasts (also at KPCC) can’t be over stated. They are what is left of public affairs broadcasting in LA.
At one time, two and three decades ago, every FCC licensee had a legal obligation to provide some form of “public affairs” programming. While these may have often been deadly dull interviews ghettoized on Sunday mornings, at least they existed and they occasionally did good, revealing work. I remember debating Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas (then the newly appointed head of the SCLC) on a freezing Sunday morning in 1977 at the Watts Towers for a KNBC program that devoted 15 minutes to a discussion of the
case and the issues surrounding affirmative action.
Today, no such legal obligation exists and public affairs programming on local stations has virtually disappeared; too often replaced, at least on radio, by talk show hosts who favor spinning, screaming and yelling over discussion and illumination.
That’s where Ruth, Warren, Larry and Patt come in—-they are the last, best hope for keeping politicians accountable, exploring important civic issues in a way that cuts through spin and BS, and allowing conflicting ideas to be discussed in civil and long-form settings. With the decline in influence of the Los Angeles Times, their roles are more important than ever.
We are all indebted to Ruth, Warren, Larry and Patt, and should take this occasion to think about how much we count on and need them. Ruth’s retirement is an appropriate time to be reminded of what a critically important role these four individuals have played and are playing in keeping Southern California from devolving into chaos and tilting into the sea—-at least four folks are watching and holding leaders accountable in a public and often revealing way.
12.12.13 at 3:52 pm | When two heroic Prisoners of Conscience met
11.5.13 at 2:23 pm | America’s energy revolution has the potential. . .
11.4.13 at 11:26 am | Visit the Getty Villa to see the Cyrus. . .
10.24.13 at 2:01 pm | The Los Angeles City Council, in the wake of. . .
8.30.13 at 9:35 am | Intolerance, no matter its motivation, is. . .
8.28.13 at 10:54 am | America is not a racial Nirvana. However, a few. . .
12.12.13 at 3:52 pm | When two heroic Prisoners of Conscience met (120)
7.29.09 at 7:24 pm | Young black men commit murder at ten times the. . . (20)
12.11.09 at 7:02 pm | The race-obsessed are bringing decades' old. . . (5)
November 13, 2009 | 8:06 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Seven members of Congress are being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. All seven are black and the Congressional Black caucus has taken exception. They say the whiff of racism’s in the air.
Sorting out their claim, it appears they believe that black lawmakers are being racially profiled – the legislative equivalent of the canard of “driving while black.” However, my view is that this is just the same old, same old – a victimization rant that has unfortunately become all too familiar.
Truth be told, ethics probes haven’t disproportionately zeroed in on black legislators in the past. In fact, white lawmakers have been the most frequent targets of the Ethics Committee’s investigations.
To point out just two, need I remind the Caucus of the long-running investigation of former Majority Leader Tom Delay – recently a “Dancing with the Stars” circus act. Delay had his hands slapped for his dealings with shady corporate lobbyists. And then there was former Congressman Mark Foley? This Republican was forced to resign over his embarrassing “infatuation” with a male teenage House page.
The Black Caucus frankly looks silly when they point out that others are “also” engaged in unethical behavior—-that hardly excuses the alleged inappropriate actions of Caucus members. In fact, as I write this, the Ethics Committee is looking into the actions of other members of Congress – and they are, in fact, white.
However, most troubling is the fact that many of those being defended on racial grounds by the Caucus seem indefensible.
Black Caucus members still voice outrage that Speaker Pelosi ousted William Jefferson from his post on the all-powerful Ways and Means Committee back in 2006. They argued at the time that Pelosi’s actions were racially motivated. This was laugh-out-loud stuff, since Pelosi represents the San Francisco Bay Area – one of the most liberal districts in the nation.
Talking about indefensible, Jefferson was discovered to have stashed $90,000 in his home freezer. This gives new meaning to the term “cold, hard cash.” The cash was from a bribery deal with a Nigerian government official. For this and a host of other charges, Jefferson’s been convicted and will face 13 years in federal lock-up, announced today.
And exactly how did racism play a role in any of this?
Then there’s Charley Rangel, the long-time New York Congressman, who is also the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee. He’s under investigation for failing to pay taxes on $75,000 worth of rental income from a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. It is also alleged that he failed to disclose at least $600,000 in assets, until this past August.
Nonetheless, the Black Caucus issued a letter expressing support for Rangel, saying “…he has our full support” and that “…we are proud of the thoughtful leadership he provides the House …” So the stink of financial improprieties doesn’t bother them? The brother’s just out-witting the system and “getting his,” right?
Apparently untroubled by the probe of Rangel’s financial behavior, even worse is their support of Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson.
Maxine came to the attention of the Ethics Committee because she and her husband owned between $250,000 and $500,000-worth of stock from One United Bank – a black-owned bank in Los Angeles. Additionally, her husband, Sidney, sat on the bank’s board of directors.
Waters allegedly leaned on the Treasury Department, asking for a federal bailout for One United – all without disclosing her or her husband’s links to the bank. The government eventually coughed up $12 million in TARP funds for One United.
Laura Richardson’s story is equally troubling. Her Sacramento home was foreclosed on and then sold to a third party. She bought the property back, which then sat idle, becoming a run-down eyesore for her neighbors. Out of their own self-interest, the local neighbors cut Richardson’s grass and cleaned up the yard – something deemed by the Ethics Committee to be an improper gift to the Congresswoman (the Los Angeles Times has reported on all the sordid details of Richardson and her several homes).
Why is it that Richardson allowed her home to become such an eyesore that it looked like a crack den and her neighbors felt compelled to clean it up?
Now the Committee is also looking into trips to the Caribbean taken by Charley Rangel and four other black House members – Michigan’s Caroline Kirkpatrick, New Jersey’s Donald Payne, Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, and Donna Christian-Christensen from Virginia.
The Committee is investigating whether their island junkets violated House rules. According to the Committee, these trips were sponsored, funded and organized by an agency known as the Carib News. If true, this is simply against the rules.
Speaking of rules, why isn’t the Black caucus embracing these probes?” Shouldn’t they be jumping up and down, saying they want the truth more than anybody? They should be advocating legislative excellence and the highest possible standards of behavior. Instead, they have adopted an embarrassing “why us” victim posture.
But it could also be argued – as I do – that the Black Congressional Caucus is a hold-over form an era that’s long-past. C’mon, is there really some racial identity interest they serve that’s fundamentally different from any other elected officials?
November 11, 2009 | 5:13 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last week, in the wake of the tragic murders at Ft. Hood, I heard news reports of a local press conference involving Salaam al Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, and the acting chief of the LAPD, Michael Downing. The thrust of the gathering was to decry the senseless violence at Ft. Hood and to “reassure” Muslim Angelenos that police cars had been deployed to Muslim institutions around the county and city to guard against a possible anti-Muslim backlash for the Texas mayhem and murder.
There was something strangely troubling about the press conference and the subsequent local coverage of the Ft. Hood tragedy.
One listened to the spokespeople and could almost believe that the Muslim community had been victimized—-not dozens of innocent soldiers at Ft. Hood—- and that there was an inchoate blood lust on the part of the American public to blame the Muslim community for the terror perpetrated by Nidal Malik Hasan.
References were made to “threatening calls and e-mails” that were directed at MPAC and then to the oft-recycled, and mostly apocryphal, stories of hate directed at the Muslim community after the murder of three thousand innocent Americans on 9/11. In fact, there was precious little hate evidenced after 9/11 and there was no effort to “take it out on the Muslim community” after Ft. Hood.
The media went out of its way (irrationally in most instances) to avoid drawing the fairly obvious conclusion of what animated Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous rampage (see our blog of November 10).
A notable exception was yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, which bravely editorialized about balancing security demands with religious tolerance in the military:
But it would be equally tragic if the armed services allowed an insistence on religious tolerance to stand in the way of detecting and rooting out extremism in the ranks. It’s essential to avoid profiling people on the basis of their religion, but that doesn’t require us to deny the existence in this country, as elsewhere, of a dangerous and anti-American ideology that identifies itself with Islam and seeks to recruit believing Muslims.
What most of the media, and most clearly our local officials, did was to unfairly short-change the American public. We were treated as if we were vengeful bigots who generalize from an individual to the group from which he/she comes without giving it a second thought. This viewpoint holds that unless we are admonished not to give in to our base instincts, all hell will break loose.
The fact is that when Seung-Hi Cho, a young man of Korean origin, massacred dozens of students at Virginia Tech in 2007, Newsweek headlined, “Korean Americans Brace for Backlash”, Newsday’s front page blared, “Koreans Fear a Backlash.”
It didn’t happen then and won’t happen now; Americans have actually absorbed many of the civil rights lessons of the past fifty years.
After this past week and the message that was sent both overtly and subtly, the recent Gallup poll which found that, despite a brief and notable bump after Obama won election last year, optimism (or lack thereof) about U.S. race relations is back to its pre-2008 election levels makes sense.
While virtually every poll of actual racial attitudes shows unprecedented levels of understanding, people are, nevertheless, convinced that things aren’t good, in no small measure because the media and much of our chattering classes refuse to recognize the transformation of America. At almost every opportunity they warn of our potential misdeeds (as in this case), they assume that we are animated by our most base motives (court mandated gerrymandering assumes we vote primarily on parochial ethnic/racial grounds), they invoke the specter of hate crimes and bigotry as if they were omnipresent phenomena, and they ignore the good news in the amelioration of racial and ethnic relations because it alters the accepted narrative of victimhood and history.
This persistence in viewing us as closet bigots waiting for the opportunity to act out our intolerance—-overtly and covertly expressed—-is itself altering our communities, but in the wrong direction.
November 10, 2009 | 6:33 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
I just watched President Obama’s talk to an audience assembled at Fort Hood to honor the memory of thirteen service members killed by army Major Nidal Malik Hasan.
Given the legal complexities yet to play out at Hasan’s upcoming trial, the president probably struck the proper tone. However, he avoided the implications of failed intelligence by responsible agencies and why, given the shooter’s history and past terrorist sympathy, no one connected the dots.
Both the FBI and military intelligence were aware that the major was communicating on a frequent basis with a rabidly-militant Muslim cleric in Yemen and yet choose to downplay the connections.
But why? Has “diversity” and “sensitivity” toward Muslims become something that has trumped common sense – not only in the nation’s corporate sector, the mainstream media, university campuses and government, but now within the military as well?
Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey, made the rounds of this past Sunday morning new shows. He sounded more like a corporate public relations flack, trying to manage a crisis, than a military man searching for the truth. Apparently operating from talking points, the General stressed the “diverse” nature of the army and spoke about the “sensitivities” involved – cautioning against “speculation.”
Political correctness was the order of the day, and not just from the army spokesman, but from mainstream media figures as well; they almost all seemed intent on making us believe Hasan was as much the victim as those he shot.
The ABC’s Diane Sawyer said on air that she wished Nidal Malik Hasan was named “smith.” And why would she wish this?
Other than Muslims having attained the stature of favored “victims” in the ideological pantheon of folks like Sawyer, her unstated reason may be the often-trotted out reference to the possibility of a backlash against the nation’s Muslims. This is the claim du jour of those representing Muslim organizations … and afforded deference by willing accomplices within the mainstream media.
But this claim is as false as it is slanderous. The view that America is a nation of rabid Islam-hating bigots, with a hair-trigger for violence, is simply fiction. Even after the 9/11 attacks that left 3000 Americans dead at the hands of Islamic killers, with the exception of a handful of incidents nationally, there was no significant “backlash” against American Muslims. Americans have the ability to target their anger at those responsible for heinous acts, and not broader populations of innocent people.
Demonstrating the extent of the politically-correct approach in the face of what was clearly an act of Muslim extremist violence, even the celebrity television psychologist, Dr. Phil, presented the Fort Hood killer as a victim. The pop television psychologist argued that “stress” may have been the cause, along with the pressure Hasan “endured” while counseling returning service personnel. However, what appeared to send Dr. Phil over the top was a guest who happened to mention Major Hasan’s religion. Dr. Phil reacted to this revelation as if the guest had used the N-word.
But why is there reluctance to identify Major Hasan’s murder spree as the act of a Muslin fanatic? Here is a life-long Muslim who had ongoing links to Anwar al Awalaki, a well-known international terrorist figure, was someone who once gave a lecture in which he stated that infidels should be beheaded and have oil poured down their throats, once attended the same San Diego mosque as two of the 9/11 hijackers, hands out copies of the Koran shortly before the shooting, and yells “Allahu Akbar” while mowing down his victims.
Yet, the FBI has offered this mealy-mouthed assessment. “The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration…”
So, according to this pronouncement, Nidal Malik Hasan’s religion had nothing to do with his actions. If this is true, then religion also played no role in the actions of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists, and Osama bin Laden’s devout religious beliefs are coincidental to his declared war against America and the West.
It’s time to push aside this kind of political correctness. Misplaced “sensitivity” will prove increasingly dangerous. Don’t agree? – just ask the dozens of surviving victims of Major Hasan’s deadly attack.
November 4, 2009 | 7:20 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Now that the media frenzy relating to yesterday’s elections has run its course, it’s time to start focusing on more pressing issues than what the election of the new governor of Virginia really means for America.
An impending decision by the Obama administration—-what to do in Afghanistan—is one of the issues that ought to occupy our and the media’s attention. Unfortunately, much that is written and said about Afghanistan and America’s role there is superficial and comes from “mavens” with little expertise in either the region, security issues, or the Islamic world. The sound bites of ninety seconds that the news offers are often short on insight.
If you’d like to learn more from exceptionally well-informed experts in order to come to your own conclusion as to what we should be doing in Afghanistan, come to our Critical Issues Seminar next Wednesday, November 11 at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park (4700 Western Heritage Way—- at the junction of the 5 and 134 freeways in Griffith Park). The program begins at 7:00PM.
In a joint program with NPR station KPCC, Community Advocates is presenting a panel discussion entitled Afghanistan—-Which Way Forward?
Larry Mantle, host of KPCC’s Airtalk, will moderate. Congressman Adam Schiff, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and of the Committee on Foreign Operations, will join Dr. Kalev I. Sepp, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Dr. Reza Aslan, author of No God But God (a New York Times bestseller) and the upcoming Words Without Borders:Writings From the Middle East, to discuss where we should be going.
There is no admission fee for what promises to be a provocative and illuminating program that will be broadcast locally and nationally.
October 30, 2009 | 9:32 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Thirty years in the civil rights field can make one jaded. You meet folks who purport to care about humanity, who are lionized for their virtues but turn out to be, at least on a personal level, less than exemplary human beings. They may talk the talk, but disappointingly, too often don’t walk the walk.
It is particularly striking then when you meet an individual who not only talks and walks the walk but does so with honesty, integrity, deep commitment and offers meaningful insights to boot.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending several days with Andrzej Folwarczny, founder and president of the Poland-based Forum for Dialogue Among Nations; a group which he founded in 1998. The purpose of the non-governmental group is to promote conversations between Poles and Jews in order to foster understanding and to help eradicate anti-Semitism.
I first met Andrzej two years ago when he visited Los Angeles to promote the missions that his group organizes for American Jews to spend a week in Poland. The trips explore the complex, nuanced and 800 year old relationship between Poles and Jews. He convinced me and several others, including Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, that the trip would be worthwhile.
We went on the trip in November, 2007.
Admittedly, I was ambivalent, if not skeptical, about how seriously to take this effort. The issue had always seemed rather clear to me, Poland, the site of all the Nazis’ extermination camps, was the home to millions of “willing collaborators” who facilitated (with some glee) the Germans’ Final Solution. I had seen Claude Lanzmann’s epic Shoah (and even arranged for him to be honored by ADL in Los Angeles in 1986) with its unforgettable images of Poles who lived near Auschwitz half smiling as they described the cattle cars full of people that passed their farms day in and day out during the Holocaust.
Despite my misgivings, the trip was, literally, life changing. Andrzej’s honesty and commitment were and are inspiring. From Krakow to Lodz to Warsaw, Andrzej and his Forum for Dialogue demonstrated the complexity of dealing with different narratives of history and how the commonly held perception of Polish attitudes towards Jews is often unfair, simplistic and a-historical.
There was and is no shortage of anti-Semites in Poland, but to ascribe to all the Polish people that most enduring of diseases is unfair. Especially when the authors of the Final Solution, Germans, are often given a free pass.
Andrzej has recounted the reasons why he does what he does:
After the collapse of Communism in Poland in 1989, Andrzej became involved in politics. He soon noticed that the first non-Communist political campaigns were marked by strong anti-Semitism: One party would accuse the other’s candidate of secretly being Jewish, while the accused party would trace their candidate’s roots to prove that he was not. The fact that accusations of being Jewish were being used in a derogatory way bothered Andrzej. “Something is wrong,” he remembers feeling, “when people are thinking in anti-Semitic patterns.”
He next recounts an incident during a trip to Israel with a group of Polish students. Their group happened to be on the same flight as a German group. At one point, the Israeli flight sponsor embraced the German guide. “He then turned to me,” recounts Andrzej, “and I could see that he had a problem shaking my hand.” He initially believed that the two must have known each other previously, until another guide told him: “You must forgive this man, but he remembers the Holocaust.”
Andrzej had trouble understanding this reasoning, but further experiences on the trip only confirmed that initial incident. Israeli teenagers, he says, showed markedly more respect towards the German group than to the Poles. But what upset him most was overhearing a guide in Yad Vashem explain to German students that the reason Nazis had organized their camps in Poland was because of traditional Polish anti-Semitism. “That was very frustrating for me and the entire Polish group,” states Andrzej.
After experiencing anti-Semitism in Poland and anti-Polonism in Israel, he went through a third experience that cemented his dedication to Polish-Jewish dialogue. This time, however, he saw opportunities and reasons for hope. In 1997, Andrzej was elected to the Polish Parliament (he served through 2001). On his first official visit to Israel, he asked to arrange a meeting for groups dealing with Polish-Jewish dialogue. He was told that there were none.
The Polish Embassy instead arranged a meeting with 10 Holocaust survivors. “I told them that I was there to promote Polish-Jewish dialogue,” says Andrzej, “but they had nothing positive to say about Poland,” recalling only firsthand stories from family or friends who had returned from concentration camps to find strangers living in their former homes.
After an hour, Andrzej felt that there was “no chance for reconciliation… I couldn’t understand why there was such a gap between how this group and Polish [non-Jewish] Holocaust survivors remember their history.”
Andrzej persisted. After four hours of discussion and dialogue, the survivors “had tears in their eyes,” asking Andrzej what Krakow, Lodz, Warsaw were like now. “I saw,” he says, “that they hate Poland, and on the other hand—they love it. I thought that, because of their age, the time of working with these people as ambassadors of Polish-Jewish reconciliation was limited.”
It was at that moment that he decided to devote himself to Polish-Jewish dialogue. “And that’s why I’m here today,” he smiles. (Journal of Polish American Affairs)
There are countless missions to Poland—-many involving young American Jews. More often than not, the trips go to Auschwitz and Krakow and the kids end up with the impression that Poland was strictly a cemetery for Jews. There is rarely even a few minutes spent discussing the fact that for 0ver 800 years Jews and Poles shared the same land and, for much of that time, Poland was the center of the Jewish world.
The relationship of Jews and Poles is far more complex, nuanced and important (Poland is among the most supportive countries of Israel in all of Europe). Andrzej not only focuses on Jewish attitudes towards Poland, he also has over 200 Polish schools learning about their neighbors who aren’t there. The Forum’s curriculum and projects are slowly impacting the attitudes of young Poles.
I accompanied Andrzej on several of his visits with local Jewish leaders last week. It was inspiring to witness the impact he had on rabbis, community leaders and hosts of others as his genuineness and commitment and serious good works became apparent.
It’s worth checking out the Forum’s website and reading the Forum’s book, Difficult Questions in Polish Jewish Dialogue.
Andrzej will be back next March; I’ll blog about his itinerary as we get closer.
October 29, 2009 | 6:49 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Today is one of those days where events coincide to remind us of where we are in America and where our society is.
I woke up this morning to the troubling news that the Adat Yeshurun synagogue in North Hollywood was attacked by a gunman who wounded two members of the temple on their way to morning services.
Arriving at work, after listening to repeated radio news reports that no one yet knew anything about the motivations of the gunman and that the two victims were lightly wounded, I read the just released ADL study of anti-Semitism in America (“anti-Semitic propensities are at a historic low since 1964, matching the previous all time low in 1998”).
I then watched the press conference outside Adat Yeshurun where a who’s who of LA leadership gathered to condemn the morning’s shooting and alert the community. The mayor made clear that the facts were unclear and whether or not a hate crime had occurred was yet to be determined.
What struck me as odd was that the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abe Cooper—who made a bow in the direction of the uncertainty of the situation—couldn’t resist warning about the danger of terror in economically hard times. Similarly, a spokesman for the ADL (prior to the press conference) warned that Jews and Jewish institutions should be alert to the dangers that the shooting presented.
It never hurts to be alert, but it is striking that the major figures in LA politics and Jewish community leadership were explicitly and implicitly warning about the implications of a crime about which they knew very little—- including the key unknown of what animated the gunman to act.
After working in the Jewish community for nearly thirty years, I am absolutely convinced that this is one community that does not need to be urged to be “on alert” or to be “concerned about potential threats”—-in our post-Holocaust times the risk of ignoring even hints of danger is one lesson that has been learned and learned well (see Rob Eshman’s opinion piece of this week).
If there is any message that should have been conveyed to the Jewish community, it is that until more information is known, there is no need for concern or fear or expectation of other criminal acts. That message should have been reinforced by noting that anti-Semitism in America is at historic lows and, barring evidence to the contrary, the assumption should be that this morning’s shooting is an anomaly—-end stop.
In fact, we should take this opportunity to recount our blessings; we are a fortunate people in a blessed country.
October 23, 2009 | 7:37 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The first nine months of the Obama administration have been intriguing; a model of what happens when a politician tries to hew to a fairly moderate line in his policies. He gets battered from the right for his “socialism” and he gets battered from the left for his “failure to do what has to be done and damn the compromises.”
Whether the issue is healthcare reform or Wall Street bailouts, he just can seem to quiet the critics. He is neither moderate enough for the right nor radical enough for the left. I can’t tell you many dinners I have had with friends (mainly on the left of the political spectrum) who express exasperation that Obama hasn’t yet transformed the world to their liking. The dialogue usually ends with our guests uttering an exasperated “he’s really no different than Bush.”
I understand the Republicans’ antipathy, that’s politics. With regard to the liberal critics, I am reminded of Lyndon Johnson’s witty quip regarding the difference between liberals and cannibals, “cannibals don’t eat their friends.”
If there was an issue that is the litmus test of whether Obama is serious about “change you can believe in” education is that issue. The pressures for inertia are enormous and come largely from a traditional Democratic constituency, teachers’ unions (see our blogs of July 28 and 31). If he is willing to buck those unions in order to effect meaningful change, than we all ought to take notice and acknowledge the political courage it demonstrates.
Today’s insightful New York Times’ column by David Brooks offers evidence that Obama is making a meaningful difference. Brooks focuses on the Department of Education’s program for change, Race to the Top——$4.3 billion offered to schools districts around the country as a lever for doing what countless studies have shown works.
As Brooks writes, “Their (the Obama Administration) ideas were good, and their speeches were beautiful. But that was never the problem. The real challenge was going to be standing up to the teachers’ unions and the other groups that have undermined nearly every other reform effort.”
Brooks concludes that the news is “very good.” People concerned about education—from former Governor Jeb Bush to Bill Gates—-have been impressed by “how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform.” Jeb Bush’s support, Brooks’ reports, is echoed by leaders as diverse as Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton.
States that don’t change their laws to comply with the new federal mandates won’t get federal funds (even dysfunctional California is changing its laws to gain access to the money); more charter schools are being approved; some unions are now agreeing to the “revolutionary” notion that teachers’ pay be related to how they perform.
We aren’t there yet and that are lots of political battles ahead that will offer ample opportunities to waffle and equivocate, but as Brooks writes about the president, so far “he has not wavered.”
I, for one, am getting tired of hearing about “Main Street versus Wall Street,” the inflated salaries of investment bankers, and whether the “public option” is the critical element in health care reform. I will not tire, however, in hearing about what may be the single most important domestic issue we face—-education reform. The question of whether we will have an educated populous that has access to a decent public education, no matter their economic status or background, is critical to America’s future—we seem finally to be heading in the right direction.