Campaign 2010: How Obama & Duncan Abandoned Rhee
The big lesson from Fenty's defeat and Rhee's likely ouster isn't that the teachers union will oppose you or that extreme care and effort are needed in explaining reform to the public but rather that you may well find yourself abandoned by those who could save you. The White House and the Duncan team left the one person arguably doing the most for their own cause out there on the battlefield alone. In case you hadn't noticed, there was no big push, no signalling, nothing dropped into the news cycle. Obama and Duncan were pretty much entirely absent -- suddenly shy and retiring on a local issue when they've weighed in on so many others. Sure, the unions probably told the White House to stand down on this one or risk losing support in November. Sure, Rhee was over the top on more than a few things. Sure, Fenty looked like he was going to lose. But that hasn't stopped the White House before. And it's hard to argue that Obama in particular couldn't have tipped the scales here. I think that the White House and the Duncan folks were tired of Rhee's criticisms and independence and aggressiveness -- an issue raised before here and by Richard Whitmire (Duncan Must Deal With Rhee, Union). She slammed Dems on reform two years ago (Republicans Do Education Reform Better). She accused Obama and others of pandering to teachers on NCLB (Rhee likes McCain's education plans). (I think she even -- uncool! -- panned RTTT, though I can't find the link right now.) And I think that the strongest voices of the reformy crowd -- DFER, Stand for Children, TFA -- still don't have the killer instinct or the oomph to push powerful Dems into action (or influence votes on their own), which is why their explainers and apologists are now left spinning recent events as a consequence of strategy or style rather than what it was -- what all this stuff is! -- politics.