Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reading: Sirota, Obama, and the Great Education Myth

Sirotablog has a clear-eyed take on the spectacle of the media adoration of Barack Obama as he flirted with the voters of New Hampshire over the weekend.

It was a wild-card candidate's dream: Days later there's no transcript of what Obama actually said, but there's bags and bags of punditry on what his presence in the Granite State means. Sirota gives us the wrap-up of the speech, available from C-SPAN's web site (which is almost as good as burying it under the Rocky Mountains), and notes that, about three-quarters of the way through his speech, Obama brings up the topic of globalization and its implication for American children, who are "competing against children not just in California or Florida or Illinois they are competing against folks in Calcutta or Beijing."

Sirota responds:
Sounds good so far - sounds like we’re going to get some honest straight talk about how the rules of trade are rigged to protect patents, copyrights and intellectual property, but not to protect human rights, union rights, wage levels or the environment, and that such a tilted playing field unfairly forces Americans to compete with slave labor. But that’s not what we get from Obama.
Sirota then quotes the next paragraph from Obama's remarks, in which the Senator holds up support for American education as the cure to the ills of globalization.

Busted! The Great Education Myth--the belief that increasing the availability of education will be the solution to problems that weren't caused by availability of education--is a marvelous bait-and-switch tactic, but not one you'd want to stake the future of American workers on.

[T]he government’s own data shows that, in fact, all of the major economic indicators are plummeting for college grads. You can make everyone in America a PhD, and all you would have is more unemployed PhD’s - it would do almost nothing to address the fact that the very structure of our economy - our tax system, our trade system and our corporate welfare system - is designed to help Big Money interests ship jobs offshore and lower wages/benefits here at home.

That gets us to exactly why the Great Education Myth is so often repeated by politicians: because it is the one myth that simultaneously looks like an economic panacea to the public and avoids offending the Big Money interests that bankroll political campaigns. Talk of reforming our trade policy to equalize capital protections (copyrights/patents) and human protections (labor/wage/enviro) threatens Corporate America’s efforts to use foreign economic desperation to increase the bottom line. Talk of ending massive taxpayer subsidization of job outsourcing threatens the profit margins of the major political donors like General Electric that are benefiting from such gifts. Talk of cutting corporate welfare threatens the corporate welfare queens that write big checks to politicians. Talk of sending more taxpayer dollars to schools even if that prescription will do very little to address the country’s structural economic challenges - well, that threatens nobody. […]

[Obama] is a man who seems caught between his background as a community organizer in touch with real people, and his current existence surrounded by Washington insiders and consultants who, by profession, push politicians to avoid challenging power. Peddling the Great Education Myth is the ultimate way to avoid challenging power. If this is just a fleeting tactic and Obama goes on to get serious about the real heart of our economic challenges, then he may be the great presidential candidate Democrats need. But if this aversion to confronting power previews the rest of his campaign, there will indeed be a major opening for a real populist candidate to win the nomination and the presidency.
Sirota's piece is going onto the Readings list on the sidebar.

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