If Obama stands up for the teachers’ union, however, he will seem as greedy, rigid, and insulated as they are. But if he opposes the unions, he risks alienating his Big Labor base. Obama already has angered the union bosses by failing to deliver on his promises to pass a “card check” measure that would have scuttled secret ballots in union elections. He also did bupkis to try to help the unions recall Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. That expensive effort failed, and a little help from Obama might have turned that situation around for Big Labor. A third cold shoulder from Obama could lead the unions and their millions of activists to stay home in November, rather knock on doors, man phone banks, and otherwise deliver the Democratic vote.

Obama’s uncharacteristic quietude throughout this controversy recalls the immortal words of Voltaire. At his deathbed in 1778, a priest invited him to reject Satan and embrace God. Replied Voltaire: “Now is no time to be making new enemies.”