Jonathan Chait

How Republicans Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Teachers' Unions

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Seyward Darby wrote a great article a few months ago arguing that, despite Obama's embrace of a historically Republican-friendly approach to education reform, Republicans were bound to oppose his reform agenda. I concurred, "Obama's willingness to take on the teachers unions takes all the fun out of being in favor of education reform for conservatives." And, sure enough, here is Republican economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin urging his Congressional party not to quickly cooperate with Obama on education reform.

Holtz-Eakin offers four reasons to withhold cooperation. Try to follow the logic:

First, Congress has serious and pressing issues to resolve regarding the federal government’s overspending addiction and the upcoming debt limit, and those should come first.

The classic dodge. We can't address this issue because there are other issues out there that we care about more. No way to work on two issue at once! Next:

Second, while there are areas of agreement between Republicans and Democrats, members need to take some time to find out what is happening on the ground before rushing to pass a reauthorization bill. This is especially true given the large influx of nearly 100 new House members and senators, all of whom will need to get up to speed on the facts in an area where urban legend often rules.

This is a generic, policy-is-hard argument that could be used to justify obstruction on any issue at all. Let's move on:

Third, as Congress takes steps to improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the top priority must be to keep students, parents, teachers, and communities first, as they are the ones on the front lines and most able to improve student achievement. This requires serious outreach, not the kind of Washington-centric, ram-it-through-before-they-catch-us mentality that has prevailed in the past two years.

Ah, keep students, parents, and teachers first. That's been the teachers union platform -- they oppose reforms to hiring practices they've managed to impose. Amazing to see a conservative endorse it. And last:

Finally, as members of Congress scrutinize the current law and digest the new reforms taken by states and localities, they must first and foremost ensure that their reauthorization balances the federal and local roles. The voters have made clear their distaste for federal overreach.

As I suspected, Republicans are forgetting everything they believed about driving reform and adopting the rump paleocon opposition to national standards. Anything to deny handing Obama a bipartisan victory before 2012. Now, I'm sure Holtz-Eakin isn't walking around consciously thinking that he's tailoring his education policy views to fit the needs of the 2012 race. I'm sure he's persuaded himself of some kind of principle. But that is exactly what's going on.

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