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Est. April 5, 2002
July 11, 2019 - Issue 797

NEA’s Education Forum, Biden,
And 2020 Democrats

"Trump is still on track for reelection based on
my composite analysis of all the available
quantitative and qualitative data, but Democrats
could change that if they get their political act together."

The National Education Association (NEA), perhaps unwittingly or by design, narrowed the field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates at its July 5th Strong Public Schools 2020 Presidential Forum, in Houston, Texas. The ten candidates who showed up are now the only ones likely to generate a significant vote from teachers during the 2020 primaries and caucuses. The fact that the other contenders could not fit the assembly of representatives of the nation’s largest teacher union into their campaign schedules is telling.

Notably missing was the self-described “foremost advocate for public education,” Sen. Cory Booker, who was apparently afraid to face a group that he has regularly savaged throughout his political career. The NEA’s Badass Teachers Caucus, that has been consistently vocal against charter and voucher schools, was at the ready to have Booker answer for his public education sins.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia deftly managed the participants by keeping them on a tight timeline, in sequential order, with three questions each and not allowing them to exceed their scheduled time allotment. The presidential attendees mostly gave boilerplate responses for helping public school teachers—more funding for students in need, higher teacher salaries, money for school infrastructure, an end to high stakes testing, an increase in the number of jobs for education personnel, legislation for gun-free schools, appointment of a public school teacher and/or educator to become U.S. Secretary of Education, and other bromides for currying teachers’ favor. Several also stated that they came from a teacher family.

Beto O’ Rourke, a long-term charter school supporter, was courageous enough to state that public but not corporate charter schools have a place in the K-12 educational system. He neglected to mention that his wife, Amy, is one of the leading Texas advocates of both types of charters. Beto also pandered to black voters by stating that he would address the opioid crisis in the Cashmere Garden neighborhood of his former colleague, Houston, Texas African American Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio came out swinging against corporate efforts to privatize public education and for federal de-funding of charter schools. The most noticeable feature of the meeting was that Sen. Kamala Harris, fresh off a kickass debate performance against the favorite, former Vice President Joe Biden, was scheduled to speak last, allegedly because she was caught up in traffic, a move some interpreted as the NEA’s implicit endorsement.

The remainder of the panelists, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Tim Ryan, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Joe Biden, and Gov. Jan Inslee left no specific impression. Although Sen. Harris was given a prime opportunity to close out the session on a high note, her remarks were not particularly inspiring.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet, who have previously supported charters, were also notably missing, along with Congresspersons Tulsi Gabbard and Eric Swalwell (who quit the race this week), former House member John Delaney, Gov. Steve Bullock, the author Marianne Williamson, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Congressman Joe Sestak, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, and former Alaska Gov. Mike Gravel, the latter three who are presidential candidates in name only.

In the meantime, Biden has apologized for his positive statements about working with his late segregationist Senate colleagues against busing for school desegregation before a black audience in Sumter, South Carolina last Saturday. The problem is that it is nearly two-and-a half weeks too late. This marks the second time that he has disavowed a position he has held for numerous years after reversing his support of the Hyde amendment—which denied federal payment for abortion services for poor women.

Another recent gaffe was Biden’s absence at the week-long 25th Anniversary Essence Festival in New Orleans, this year’s largest gathering of African American women. Perhaps he was afraid of a lackluster response after Sen. Harris knocked him out during the first debate in June. Biden has shown a singularly inability to take advice from his campaign staff on racial issues and from other black leaders. The Rev. Al Sharpton earlier gave him numerous opportunities to offer an apology for his relationships with rabid Senate racists on his television show, Politics Nation, and Biden refused.

He doesn’t seem to be in the moment on racial and social issues that animate the Democratic base as if he is awakening from a deep sleep like Rip Van Winkle. So far, Biden doesn’t appear to be a candidate for these political times. He is running for President the same way that Hillary Clinton did as if he is owed the position, especially since he served as Vice President for the nation’s first African American President. But Biden’s continuing use of President Obama as a campaign prop is beginning to grate on many in the Democratic Party, blacks in particular.

In addition, Democrats are still in disarray as they are increasingly fighting within. Alexander Ocasio Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilman Omar are at war with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over border funding legislation that has been overwhelmingly endorsed by the Democratic caucus. They wanted more restrictions on use of the funding by President Trump and her support for other element of their aggressive, progressive agenda.

Their agenda is well-intentioned, but they fail to recognize that their unwillingness to compromise on some of their far left positions places their more moderate colleagues, who defeated Republican incumbents, at risk of defeat in 2020. They are the ones responsible for the Democrats achieving their current majority. AOC, Pressley, Tlaib, and Omar were elected from deep blue districts which makes them safe at this point.

Moreover, AOC’s office has accused moderate Democrats of acting like the southern Democrats of the 1940s with regard to their treatment of black and brown children. Their battle with Pelosi and other Democrats is causing disunity between some of the Democrats’ base groups making it harder for them to unite.

This is a continuing and growing advantage for Trump forces that, despite his unorthodox approach to functioning as President, have seen his overall approval rating rise to its highest level during his term of office. Irrespective of the odiousness of his actions, when Trump makes a move, his base and the Republican Party move with him in lockstep. The Democrats have not demonstrated any such ability to organize themselves in such a manner.

Trump is still on track for reelection based on my composite analysis of all the available quantitative and qualitative data, but Democrats could change that if they get their political act together. Billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer’s recent entry into the 2020 presidential race does not help this process.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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David A. Love, JD
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