Monthly Archives: August 2008

Time Out on Palin

The blogosphere has been awash in suggestions that Sarah Palin will be widely viewed as politically inexperienced, a lightweight beauty queen, and even a bad mother. But today polling is out, and it shows Palin has made a great first impression on the American public; she is viewed favorably by 78 percent of Republicans, 26 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of unaffiliated voters. Compare that to a roll-out favorability rating of just 43 percent for Joe Biden. Women seem to be more skeptical of Palin than men, but that is to be expected; on average, women are more skeptical of all conservative politicians and policies than men are.

I hope these numbers serve as a wake-up call for both the national media and the liberal blogosphere. Independent pro-choice women won't be taken in by McCain's pandering choice, but that doesn't mean the American public will respond kindly to the vilification of this woman. She is attractive, and a working mom doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world — raising a child with a disability. Yes, she is a former beauty queen who made it in politics. Most Americans will say, "Good for her," not, "OMG WTF!!! She's not qualified!" They will see themselves and people they know in Palin, her family, and their story.

It is especially silly to suggest (à la one of Andrew Sullivan's readers) that conservatives will be appalled by a woman with five kids running for high office, believing she won't have enough time for mothering. Conservatives have always approved of their own women as working moms. Who do you think was taking care of Phyllis Schlafly's kids while she traveled the country decrying the ERA? Last year I wrote a profile of conservative sweetheart Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. She got married later in life — because, as she says herself, she was devoted to her career — and also has a son with Down Syndrome. Her husband, a retired admiral, stays home with baby! Here's McMorris Rodgers describing the arrangement:

I quite honestly am guilty of putting most of my time and energy into career for most of my life. A key factor for me is that I have a wonderful husband. He's retired and he's at home right now with Cole. He's looking forward to being a caretaker.

Movement types adore this woman! And Palin has a similar story.

Of course, the hypocrisy is very deep. Liberal feminists are not allowed to discuss women's choices and struggles with work-life balance without being painted as radical whiners. But these are issues for professional conservative women, too. Their base knows it, and generally approves of these female politicians' decisions and sacrifices, which they see as serving a greater cause. The Obama campaign and its supporters won't win very many hearts and minds attacking Palin for her personal life or even lack of political experience — she's simply too compelling of a figure. So let's stick to the issues when discussing Palin: her denial of human causes of global warming, her opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and evidence of her possible corruption. There's more than enough there without descending into the attacks that are only all too common when it comes to female politicians.

cross-posted at TAPPED

Dana in Denver

Covering the Democratic National Convention out here is 1) fun and 2) crazy busy. So I'm just going to start a reverse chronological list here of the stuff I'm writing over at the Prospect site. On a more personal note, through sheer talking-our-way-in, a journalist friend and I were able to join the likes of Dan Rather, the Daily Show correspondents, and Harold Ford Jr. in eating at the CNN Grill last night. It's hard to believe, but CNN has actually purchased the rights to a Denver restaurant for the week, rebranding it with CNN logos and serving yummy fancy-style American food to the convention glitteratti. A Congressman from Virgina was actually turned away — no joke.The culinary highlight was a decorate-your-own cupcake plate. Three cupcakes with three squeeze bags of DIY icing — in red, white, and blue.

Okay so here's that list of my work:

Interview with D.C. Councilman Kwame Brown

What Hillary Means Now

Michelle Obama appears at EMILY's List

An interview with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano

An interview with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown

Interview with Providence Mayor David Cicilline

Article on tensions between edu-reform Dems and teachers' unions

Interview with NARAL president Nancy Keenan

Merit Pay Fray in Denver

When the Democratic Party arrives in Denver on Aug. 25, they'll be visiting the school district that is home to the most famous teacher merit pay experiment in the nation, ProComp. Merit pay, of course, is just one of many education reform tools, but it has taken on a sort of talismanic quality in some circles, with supporters equating sympathy for aggressive merit pay programs with a commitment to reform itself, and opposition or even caution toward merit pay as the cardinal sin of edu-wonkery. Wouldn't it be dramatic, then, if the Denver teachers' union were to strike during the Democratic convention over a planned expansion of their merit pay program, forcing national Democrats to consider and maybe even take a stance on the issue?

Yes. And as the Denver Post reports, a strike is a possibility. On Aug. 20, the teachers' union and district will enter into three days of negotiation on the new contract, which will end just as convention activities begin. At The Quick and the Ed, Chad Aldeman has a good rundown of what's at stake; it seems to be a relatively good plan offering higher starting salaries for new teachers and bonuses for those who choose hard-to-staff schools and subjects, or who work in buildings that have demonstrated school-wide achievement gains. Teachers hired before 2006 will have the option of whether to participate in the new or old compensation plan, but under the new plan, all but 16 of the district's nearly 4,500 teachers will get a raise.

What's not to like? A proposal to allow each principal to award one teacher with a $2,900 bonus each year. The union is calling this the "pet teacher project."

Still, several hundred Denver teachers are opposed to a strike, especially during the media rush of convention week. They've started an organization called Denver Teachers for Change, which they stress is not anti-union, but simply opposed to the union's current leadership and agenda. This will be an interesting story to watch as we approach the convention, not least because Barack Obama's stated position on merit pay plans is that he supports them only when teachers' union are involved in their drafting and implementation.

cross-posted at TAPPED

Women’s Issues and the Democratic Platform

The draft of the Democratic Party platform, principally written by Obama's Senate policy director, the estimable Karen Kornbluh, is a remarkably feminist document, one befitting of a political party that, this year, came exceedingly close to nominating a woman. In the summer of 2006, I heard Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York speak on the Hill, lamenting that the chicken livered John Kerry team had, for the first time in decades, removed support for the Equal Rights Amendment from the party platform. Well, this year the ERA is back, alongside a truly unequivocal statement of support for reproductive rights, an unprecedented statement in opposition to sexism, and new sections on equal pay, women's economic struggles, work-family balance, and violence against women. Read the whole platform here.

It's clear that care was taken to involve members of Hillary Clinton's circle in the document's drafting (perhaps Dana Singiser), or to at least take their concerns to heart. Clinton's run is presented in the document as a feminist historical feat, and in the foreign policy section, the draft borrows the language of Clinton's celebrated 1995 speech to the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing: "Our policies will recognize that human rights are women’s rights and that women’s rights are human rights." Reflecting Obama's own long-standing interest in international development, the documented continues, "Women make up the majority of the poor in the world. So we will expand access to women’s’ economic development opportunities and seek to expand microcredit."

Lastly, it's worth saying a bit more about the abortion language in the platform draft. Some conservatives are interpreting the platform's mention of adoption and a woman's right to choose motherhood as a new attempt to reach out to mixed and anti-choice Evangelical and Catholic voters. But I also think the platform is a significant victory for reproductive rights advocates. The Clintonian formula of "safe, legal, and rare" has been scrubbed. The adoption stuff is hardly new. And both the 2004 and 2008 platforms, with their "regardless of her ability to pay" language, oppose the Hyde Amendment, which currently prevents Medicare and Medicaid from paying for abortions. Anyhow, you be the judge. Here's the old, 2004 choice platform:

We will defend the dignity of all Americans against those who would undermine it. Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

And here's 2008:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empowers people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

I simply don't see this as a modification of the party's pro-choice stance. Rather, it's a strengthening of that position and a re-articulation of the commitment to helping low-income expectant mothers.

cross-posted at TAPPED

The Tragedy of John Edwards

The tragedy of the John Edwards affair revelation — beyond the embarrassment for the Edwards family and the fact that this man, once a leading presidential contender, put his party and country at great risk — is that so many of Edwards' supporters hoped and believed he could become a sort of Al Gore for poverty. Just a few weeks ago, Edwards was traveling the country on one of his "poverty tours," saying he expected to speak about the issue at the Democratic convention and move it to the center of the party's platform. The loss of Edwards' credibility is a profound loss for his issues. For now, at least, there won't be a nationally recognized spokesperson for issues of poverty and inequality.

With his image as a new moneyed McMansion connoisseur with elaborate personal grooming habits, Edwards was never the ideal face for this nascent movement. Still, he kept plugging along on his issues, despite the accusations of hypocrisy flung at him. Most of the people who accused him of insincerity, of course, have never lifted a finger to change public policies affecting the poor or call attention to their struggles.

I'm not trying to apologize for Edwards' seamy affair or his lies about it. He's simply not the man so many people hoped he was. But this story has implications beyond the Edwards family and the presidential race.

cross-posted at TAPPED

Blame Feminists

Watch out, feminists are causing trouble again! As David Paul Kuhn informs us in Politico today:

Many of the foremost activists in the women’s movement ardently believe that Hillary Rodham Clinton should be Barack Obama’s running mate — and primary wounds that are just beginning to heal may be torn back open should the Democratic nominee select someone else, as it seems very likely he will.

So who are these powerful women’s movement leaders, according to Kuhn?

1. Geraldine Ferraro — never a professional feminist, but the first female V.P. pick, in 1984. She was largely mocked and marginalized during the primary after she said on national television that white women were the real victims of racism, and that Obama would never have been a presidential prospect had he not been black. Many feminists were embarrassed and disappointed by the comments. Leading feminist blogger Pam Spaulding called Ferraro’s words “just plain old race-baiting idiocy.”

2. Marcia Pappas, head of the New York state chapter of NOW. It’s no surprise that a New York feminist leader would be a Hillary Clinton loyalist. But Pappas was decried by other feminists as “unhinged” after publishing a press release calling Sen. Ted Kennedy‘s endorsement of Obama “the ultimate betrayal.”

3. Pamela Sumners, head of the Missouri chapter of NARAL. Sumners is entitled to her opinions, but isn’t the more relevant fact that NARAL became the first national women’s group to endorse Obama back in May? Sumners’ opinion is a marginal one within her own organization.

In other words, none of these individual women are representative of the feminist movement as a whole, nor are they national leaders of institutional women’s groups — if that’s even how the women’s movement should be defined. If you’re interested in the opinions of the actual executives who run NOW, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and other women’s organizations, check out my reporting on all of their get-out-the-vote efforts. The leaders I spoke to, including NOW president Kim Gandy, were ready back in June to unconditionally accept Obama as the Democratic nominee. Feminist groups are working hard to bring women to the polls in support of progressive policy goals; it’s not all about Hillary, and it never was.

As Gandy herself told Kuhn, although some feminists like the idea of Hillary as V.P., there are other ways to reach out, such as picking a politician of any gender who’s been loyal to the Clinton camp. The bottom line is that while there may be a small number of Clintonite feminists who remain angry, they are a tiny group who will have next to no effect on Obama’s electoral prospects. After all, four out of five former Clinton supporters are already planning to vote for Obama, and there’s no evidence that the remaining 20 percent is made up primarily of die-hard feminists. But who cares? Blame the feminists anyhow!

cross-posted at TAPPED

A Comparison of Two Suburban High Schools

This is depressing, but not particularly surprising: Fairfax County, Virginia has rejiggered some high school boundaries in order to even out attendance at the county’s schools and socioeconomically integrate. In the process, a group of affluent families were told their rising freshmen would be attending South Lakes High School, which has more economically disadvantaged students than other nearby schools. The parents raised $125,000 to sue the district, but lost. As Erin Dillon writes at The Quick and the Ed, “If these parents can raise $125,000 to sue the school board, they probably also have the clout to get more AP classes into South Lakes High School, and that’s the kind of parental involvement that improves the quality of education for all students.”

Indeed. What’s more, South Lakes already offers an International Baccalaureate program — so it’s not like there aren’t options for advanced students at the school. South Lakes also has a pioneering political science program for seniors, which allows them to complete a semester-long internship with a non-profit or government agency. Some South Lakes students have even interned in the U.S. Senate. That’s an incredible opportunity for a high school kid.

So were the litigious Fairfax parents correct to freak out about South Lakes? Let’s look at the numbers.

At South Lakes High, 46 percent of students are white, 20 percent are black, 16 percent are Hispanic, and 11 percent are Asian. One-third of the school’s population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. In other words, this is both a racially and socioeconomically diverse school. How does this affect the most academically talented/privileged proportion of the student body? Well, more than half of white kids and almost half of Asian kids participate in the IB program, as do about 20 percent of blacks and Hispanics. An overwhelming majority of all the students enrolled in IB score a 4 or better, indicating excellent instruction and achievement. As for the SAT, the average combined score for white kids at South Lakes is 1730 out of 2400.

Now let’s look at Oakton High School, which affluent parents sued to get their kids into. Oakton is 67 percent white and only 11 percent black and Hispanic. Less than 9 percent of students there qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Oakton has an AP program in which white students are just as successful as their similar white peers at South Lakes are on the IB exams; of the black students participating in AP though, less than half scored three or higher. Tellingly, on the SAT, Oakton’s white kids score 1734, essentially the exact same score as white students at South Lakes.

My point: The educational outcomes of privileged kids are remarkably similar across schools with similar curricula, while it is the least advantaged students who show more differentials. When parents are considering where to send their kids to school, they should look at the relevant numbers.

Hat tip: Matt Zeitlin.

cross-posted at TAPPED