|A start of something big? (M. Klonsky pic)|
The Obama/Boehner debt-ceiling deal is disaster capitalism at its worst. Republicans, with help from the White House, and using the manufactured default crisis as their rationale, dealt bunker-busting shock-and-awe to schools, teachers and the nation's children.
While a default would have made life miserable for public schools, few knowledgeable observers really believed that Wall Street would allow it to happen. The Deal deals nothing but more devastation for public education on top of already crippling budget cuts, swelling class sizes, elimination of reading, arts, and technology programs, as well as job losses for many of the nation's teachers (including the best ones). If ending job loss is the key to rebuilding the economy, this deal is a job-killer and an economy buster.
Naturally, the White House, Tim Geithner and even some teacher union leaders are touting the deal as a great example of "compromise" and "bipartisanship." (The NEA's Van Roekel called the Deal "flawed, yet bi-partisan", whatever the hell that means). But the deal represents neither a genuine compromise nor bipartisanship -- unless you call death-by-a-thousand-cuts instead of one a compromise. It was done exclusively on the backs of the poor, middle class and working people, and will further widen the gap in standard of living between blacks, Latinos and whites. As for the corporations and the wealthy, they were protected by their anti-tax T-Party faithful.
The deal may prove to be a 2012 election-saver for Obama (many of the cuts are backloaded until after the election) and a political life-saver for discredited Majority Leader Boehner. But congressional Democrats, who were left out of the deal-making process, are furious. They will have to go back to their districts and defend the indefensible to an angry base.
Some of my fellow school activists and progressive educators will take solace in the fact that the new debt bill all but kills any chance for an imminent reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and will likely deliver a death blow to Arne Duncan's Race To The Top. Duncan's only power over schools and resistant states was his ability to inflict punishment by means of the selective doling out of federal funds to bankrupt states and starving school districts. He was able to do this in the first round of RTTT because he had millions of stimulus dollars in his pocket. Now that money is gone. The T-Party was able to do, through forced budget cuts to Title I and IDEA, what conservatives have long dreamed of but couldn't accomplish politically: to neuter or liquidate the Department of Education (especially with Democrats running it and in control of the federal trough).
But the problem is, the possible demise of Duncan power means even more power for corporate reformers funded by giant philanthropists like Gates, Broad and Walton, who are accountable to no public, who don't have to run for office or engage in legislative debates and still have Duncan around to run interference for them. A weakened DOE with fewer hammers in its toolbox won't mean less test-madness or more power for local schools or classroom teachers -- quite the opposite.
When you get right down to it, the Republicans won this important battle in their war on working people, because they were willing and able to mobilize their base in the face of a showdown. Obama and the Democrats, on the other hand, act as if they are more afraid of their own base than they are of the Republicans. They see the left as their main enemy and Boehner's GOP as their main partners.
Because they are afraid to organize and mobilize the very base that elected Obama in 2008, that organization will have to come from elsewhere. That's why the Save Our Schools march and movement, though still small, and currently without structure or stable leadership, is so important. At least it's a start.