Teachers unions angry with Obama staff "sellouts"

This story first came to my attention via a tweet from Kombiz Lavasany of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

When I see something like that, I know it’s got to lead to something good, so I obviously couldn’t resist following the link to an article by Jonathan Chait.

Obamans, Selling Out, and the Proxy Fight for the Democratic Party’s Future

Barack Obama has always had a slightly uneasy relationship with what one of his aides, very early, called “the professional left.” Actual liberal voters like Obama a lot. For that matter, they like Hillary Clinton, too. And yet serious doctrinal disputes between the administration and the cadres of full-time (i.e. “professional”) activists have always simmered just below the surface.

The “simmering” disputes in question here seem to center on instances where some of Obama’s loyal foot soldiers in the war for liberal ideals have left the administration and promptly gone to work cashing in on pretty much the exact opposite of their previously stated goals. Chait cites one example as Jim Messina, who went to work for David Cameron and the Tories (make of that what you will) and another being David Plouffe. Plouffe signed on with Uber, which apparently also enrages liberals for reasons which are hard to rationalize.

But the really interesting case studies cited are Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt, who Chait describes as having signed on to the education reform movement. (Insert Dramatic Hamster music here.)

The unions have framed these moves as a sellout. (“It’s been really frustrating from the standpoint of liberals, progressives,” longtime union leader Steve Rosenthal tells MSNBC.) But assuming this is a sellout presumes that the natural position for an Obama loyalist is to side with the unions. There’s no reason to think this.

Uber and education reform both highlight fissures within the Democratic coalition. The left side of this debate favors policies designed primarily or entirely for the benefit of public employees. The right side of this debate favors more competition that threatens incumbent providers.

This is a pretty stunning analysis (where “stunning” means shockingly frank), and Chait points out some of the things which unions oppose and Obama has ostensibly supported, such as “encouraging charter schools, evidenced-based metrics, and other forms of competition.”

These so called betrayals seem to be evidence that politicos are willing to toe the party line while on the government payroll, but once unleashed into the wilds of the private sector, they jump over to the winning side. Feel free to view this as proof of insincerity on the part of Plouffe and company, but Chait’s breakdown also serves to highlight the difference between the Left and the Right on one of the few fundamental issues where both sides seem to be fighting for the same cause.

Everyone claims to want to improve the educational system, increase efficiency and give kids the best chance at success by providing them with the greatest education possible while investing resources in an efficient manner. You’d think there would be a lot of cooperation across the aisle on something like this, but it’s clearly not been the case. Conservatives want to be able to expand educational choices for parents, eliminate waste, and remove pedophiles and deadbeats from the system rather than allowing them to hang out in rubber rooms on the taxpayer dime for years on end or simply be shuffled from one school system to another. The unions have a contrasting set of goals which apparently center on protecting the broken and toxic tenure system while keeping the spigot of taxpayer money wide open, flushing cash into the status quo while spending all their dues and contributions on political campaigns, rather than benefiting teachers.

But, in perhaps the most amusing part of this tale, Chait notes that the Left is afraid to go after Obama and chooses to pretend that some of his minions are doing this all on their own.

Teachers unions — or, at least, the most uncompromising elements of them — have fought against these policies in a slightly comic way. Rather than fight openly against Obama’s education policies, they have identified a series of proxy enemies like Michelle Rhee or Campbell Brown. The National Education Association recently passed a resolution demanding the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan — another union target — as if Duncan were some rogue figure who was enacting massive reform measures behind Obama’s back.

It’s bad business to go after Obama – or Hillary – so they will wage war with Arne Duncan. Because, you know… Obama probably didn’t know anything about it.

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