While I Was Away…And Obama’s Pro-Voucher Stand?

Michael Goldstein came, saw, and went wild.   So a big thanks to him for some great guestblogging.  More guestbloggers before too long.

Also last weekThe Post asked some folks to comment on President Obama’s voucher compromise.  Here’s my take from the package:

If President Obama wanted the [voucher] issue to go away, he just made a mistake. His compromise proposal will breathe new life into the debate over school vouchers in Washington and nationally.

Although he did voucher supporters a favor by giving political cover for efforts to protect participating students, ardent supporters are not satisfied with an arrangement that basically terminates the program through attrition. Meanwhile, voucher foes are aghast at the prospect of the program slowly turning into a bloody shirt for school reform. They understand that every year students are enrolled in private schools through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a year the voucher issue remains alive. Thus, the fight over what is really a marginal program in the broader landscape of American public education has become an intense battle.

The president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, recently called the voucher program “an ongoing threat to public education in the District of Columbia” and urged Obama to oppose any effort to extend the program. That’s not really the language of moderation.

The real test of Obama’s political style is how vigorously the administration pursues this compromise on Capitol Hill. The president’s critics say he will not cross swords with Democratic special-interest groups. Even many admirers wonder when smoothness will give way to steel on a tough question. Oddly, protecting a school voucher program is emerging as a test.

The irony of the situation is striking.   But, it’s not a good position to be in.   Sometimes in public affairs when you strike a middle ground all you really do is upset everyone and prolong a problem rather than forge a genuine compromise.  Although some voucher foes are putting on a game face to support Obama, no one is really happy about this deal.  And voucher opponents understand that while Obama’s policy is a humane one, it seriously erodes their bright line argument against vouchers.   The President would have been better off either saying that this is a small program that was not doing any harm and letting it be or ending it quickly and putting it behind him (for instance by only continuing it until students age-out of their current schools as Secretary Duncan originally floated).*    As Machievelli (who in fairness wasn’t much of a post-partisan) counsels, in politics when you have to do something like this, do it swiftly and in one stroke.  This was neither so it’s not the last we’ve heard of all this.

*Which raises two interesting possibilities:  Is Duncan’s idea the fallback position here?  Or, is Obama as subversive and effective a leader as conservatives claim and he’s actually discreetly trying to perpetuate the program until the issue isn’t so toxic…

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