THE BLOG
03/04/2011 01:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Scorpion and the Democrat

The cagey old Republican scorpion asked the president for a ride across the river. After all, it was a new day full of hope for bipartisanship, and the "billionaires boys club" had helped the dynamic young Democrat get elected. The president had attended public schools before literature and history had been driven out by data-driven "reform", so he should have known better. But sure enough, halfway across the river, the scorpion obeyed his own nature. This scorpion sting need not prove fatal for the Obama Administration, if he remembers some timeless history, and counters the latest attacks on collective bargaining and the Democratic party.

The President should have known better, but new fairy tales had replaced the fables that taught timeless truths. In the 1990's, the "Comeback Kid" had triangulated his way across a river by attacking his friends, lambasting Sister Soldja, and ending welfare as we knew it, and the Newt ended up in the stomach of the Arkansas Razorback.

Then the meanest wolf of them all, Karl Rove, was brought down by his own hubris. Rove bragged to New Yorker that he would use NCLB, as well as attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public service workers and social security, to destroy the Democratic Party. The moral of Rove's story was that Democrats could be lured into destroying each other in a civil war which pitted core Democratic constituencies -- people of color, parents of poor children, teachers, and unions -- against each other. Extending the war on teachers to a war against all public sector unions would then cut off the Democrats' money supply.

In 2008, however, the corporations supported the Democratic President, and they proposed an updated version of the "fishes and the loaves." The chief billionaire said that schools could do more with less, by replacing old-fashioned checks and balances, such as seniority, with "disruptive innovation." With his data dashboards, we no longer needed to fish, farm, or do the hard work of overcoming the legacies of generational poverty. The billionaire would train new apostles, and their high expectations would feed the multitudes.

When Democratic "reformers" urged the president to give a ride to the old Republican Free Market scorpion, they also urged him to reject the old paradigms of seniority and due process. It never occurred to the accountability hawks that the Religious Right and the Tea Party would come along. It never occurred to them that in many states, seniority was the only way to resist Intelligent Design and/or non-stop test prep being imposed on students. Democratic "reformers" had just wanted charters to rough up the unions, and not destroy them. Now they are shocked by old-fashioned union-bashers, who really believe their anti-teacher rants, and who want to use vouchers to destroy godless public schools. Democratic "reformers" had just wanted to beat down teachers in order to look tough by firing a few teachers and reducing their retirement benefits. Now Democratic "reformers" are "creeped out" that Republican "reformers" are acting on their long-held, often-expressed beliefs.

President Obama helped create this mess with his gratuitous insults against teachers in the small state of Rhode Island, but now the union-bashing has spread to the big states of Wisconsin and Ohio. Soon after the President departs from Florida, after making nice with Jeb Bush, that electoral vote-rich state will also force a "which side are you on?" decision. In other words, he still has not realized that to make it to the shore, the President must accept the help from his friends in labor.

The mainstream press is doing an excellent job of explaining how the Obama Administration inadvertantly opened the Pandora's Box by attacking teachers, and how it led to today's extreme attacks on collective bargaining. He twisted the arms of all types of stakeholders in order to receive federal RttT and School Improvement Grant funding. In other words, the Administration forced teachers unions to ford a dangerous river with all sorts of critters. Many are delightful traveling companions. But many have their stingers out.

President Obama needs to send Secretary Duncan to Rhode Island to fight for the 1,926 teachers in Providence, Rhode Island who received termination notices, even after their moderate union president joined Duncan and his superintendent in embracing collaboration. He should then send Duncan to the picket lines in Wisconsin, Ohio, Idaho, Indiana, Tennessee, and every other state that is challenging collective bargaining. Duncan should take advantage of those missions to get an earful of the true tales of post-industrial America.

Matt Bai's portrait of the "cartoonish" anti-worker Governor Chris Christie in the New York Times Magazine points another way out of our mess. "Taking the fight to the unions is a good way to bolster your credentials as a gutsy reformer with voters," Bai concludes, but "sooner or later, most people tend to tire of the boorish guy at the party, even if he's entertaining."

With the help of labor, President Obama should be able to shake off his wound, and fight back. "No Drama Obama" should speak quietly but use his big stick. States that undercut due process rights are violating the principles of cooperation that are supposed to be a component of "reform," and they should thus be held accountable. The Administration should announce that attacks on teachers unions will result in the forfeiture of any RttT and SIG where collaboration was promised.

Please, read more of my thoughts at ScholasticAdministrator.com.