Recently, Barack Obama performed yet another political miracle, to the amazement and delight of the entire nation. In case anyone missed the sheer genius of his performance, the news page of the New York Times fell all over itself to make sure its readers realized just what a mastermind Obama was to pull off this latest feat.
What did he do that was so amazing in the eyes of the Times? He nominated the most boring education secretary he could possibly have chosen.
Praise for Obama’s ingenious choice, and for Obama’s brilliance generally, was lavishly quoted in the Times story. “Obama found the sweet spot,” raved one supporter quoted by the Times. “Both camps will be O.K. with the pick!”
And indeed, it is true that Arne Duncan, the superintendent of Chicago schools, is praised by education reformers and teacher union monopolists alike. Reformers like Duncan because he’s better than the union shills they’re accustomed to dealing with during Democratic administrations; in Chicago, Duncan successfully pushed to close underperforming schools, sometimes even reopening the same schools under new leadership. And the unions like Duncan because although he’s not one of theirs, he’s tame — you’ll never hear him push for anything that would seriously liberate schools from union control.
In other words, as Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution told a less credulous Wall Street Journal, Duncan is a “safe choice.” If Duncan is acceptable to everybody, that’s another way of saying he’s the lowest common denominator. And as a great education reformer once said: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.”