More Argumentum ad Obamam

Richard Cohen jumps on the "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" bandwagon.

Taken individually, the tax problems of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the health and human services secretary-designate, Tom Daschle, don't amount to much. Together, though, they amount to a message: If you are beloved by this administration, you don't necessarily have to play by the rules. Both Geithner and Daschle are good men, but their appointments send the message that Washington's new broom sweeps a bit like the old one.

Which old broom exactly?

 But if the money is going to be offered, why not couple it with demands for reform? After all, without the extra cash, the likelihood is that teachers across the country will be laid off. That gives the president some leverage: Take my money, take my reforms. Maybe a deal could not be done. We won't know. We do know, though, that the teachers unions have an understandable aversion to some reforms. We also know that the unions supported Obama in his campaign. 

But that's not enough. Apparently, the administration apparently is supposed to reform all the sectors of the economy that it is going to fund prior to stimulating the economy. The passage ends with a nice innuendo that the real reason there is no reform tied to these dollars is the support of unions–rather than say the desire to get spending in the economy as quickly as possible (an aim that might be criticized on its own grounds).

 How about extending the school day, maybe for an hour or so? How about extending the school year? How about tinkering with the No Child Left Behind law but insisting that testing — accountability — be maintained? How about doing something about the sad fact that teachers aren't what they used to be? Now that women and minorities have more opportunities in almost every field, the best of them have abandoned teaching. The pay is lousy, and the work can be hard. Can $100 billion do something about that? Could be.

Yes, how about "tinkering" with No Child Left Behind–that's certainly some serious policy suggestions from Cohen–hopefully the administration will jump right on that. This wouldn't seem to be fallacious, but there is something repugnant in Cohen's vague and unsupported analysis here. His criticism seems to be just that we could have some change to education along with stimulus dollars. That's about as substantive as his comments get. 

And I may be wrong about this, but my recollection is that much of this is provided as money to the state, one of which at least is planning on doing some of these things.

An opportunity has been missed. I can appreciate the need to move things quickly and to avoid unnecessary political fights — teachers unions know how to fight — but the explosive energy of "change" is being lost. Hit rewind. It's not too late to get it back.