Why has President Obama been so hushed about this week’s Chicago teachers’ strike? Clearly he has been distracted, what with the unspeakable tragedy of the murder of four Americans in Libya — Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, technology officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods — and the ensuing deadly chaos across the Middle East. Obama also had to jet off the day after the carnage in Benghazi for a fundraiser . . . in Las Vegas. Further campaigning followed.
All of that aside, Obama has had very good reasons for pretending that children in the Windy City are learning as much (or as little) as usual right now.
Obama is pinned between a boulder and a sword. If he sides with the teachers’ union, he will alienate regular Americans in the private sector, 93.1 percent of whom are non-union members. Many of them stay busy every morning taking their children to school. They have little sympathy for a union that is making life very inconvenient for parents who suddenly don’t know where to drop off their kids as they go to work, not to mention that their sons and daughters are learning nothing while the strike grinds on.
The teachers’ union’s demands are absurd and offensive. They were offered 4 percent raises for each of the next four years, but this was not good enough. Which employee anywhere can boast such a pay hike, when some 23 million Americans would love to get off of their sofas and earn any paychecks at all? The teachers union is thoroughly out of touch, especially in a town with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, a full 1 percentage point above the national figure. Lots of college graduates who have moved back in with their parents would love to fill those jobs, and at much lower starting salaries than the $71,000 that a typical Chicago teacher earns annually.
Rather than simply show gratitude for their very generous salaries and benefits, the striking instructors also oppose report cards for teachers. Imagine that: teachers against report cards! If teachers can judge and grade their students, why on Earth should they not be evaluated and graded, so that pupils, parents, and principals can reward and learn from the good ones, improve those who fall short, and dismiss those who cannot do their jobs? What part of this makes no sense?
If Obama stands up for the teachers’ union, however, he will seem as greedy, rigid, and insulated as they are. But if he opposes the unions, he risks alienating his Big Labor base. Obama already has angered the union bosses by failing to deliver on his promises to pass a “card check” measure that would have scuttled secret ballots in union elections. He also did bupkis to try to help the unions recall Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. That expensive effort failed, and a little help from Obama might have turned that situation around for Big Labor. A third cold shoulder from Obama could lead the unions and their millions of activists to stay home in November, rather knock on doors, man phone banks, and otherwise deliver the Democratic vote.
Obama’s uncharacteristic quietude throughout this controversy recalls the immortal words of Voltaire. At his deathbed in 1778, a priest invited him to reject Satan and embrace God. Replied Voltaire: “Now is no time to be making new enemies.”