« The Iraq Situation and the 2004 Vote | Main | Thinking Clearly About Population Shifts and Electoral Change »

Has Clark Got His Mojo Working?

That’s probably going a bit far, but his campaign does seem to be performing solidly of late. For assessments of his progress, see two good reports from the blogosphere in The Left Coaster and in Mark Schmitt’s Decembrist.

For a more jaundiced view, see Matt Tabibi’s demolition job in The Nation. It’s fair to say Tabibi was somewhat hostile to Clark–he appeared to think it was entirely reasonable to pretend to be a volunteer for the Clark campaign and then tell Clark campaign workers that he was a porn film director “just to see how they would react”. Journalism at its best!

While DR thinks progress is being made and finds it significant that recent national polls show Clark holding up quite well (placing second or tied for first in the last five major polls), he still thinks Clark needs another card besides national security and electability to play. DR’s recommendation: education.

No other candidate owns this issue and indeed the race has been notable for how little a role education has played in it. In terms of domestic issues–besides the economy in general--only health care has received a lot of attention. A bold idea or two on education could go a long way toward giving the Clark candidacy a clear and compelling profile in the domestic arena. How about making a college education of some kind universally available to young people? And there are many others in an area dramatically underserved by the Democratic candidates (see DR’s post, “It’s the Education, Stupid” for more discussion).


Actually, it was Wes Clark's comments on education in the interview he did back in September with Josh Marshall that made me really stand up and take notice. Instead of the usual whining about how Bush didn't fully fund No Child Left Behind, he goes way out of the box and criticizes the entire notion of NCLB--namely, the idea that competition is either a relevant or desirable concept to apply to education. I'll just quote (he's talking about how the Bush administration works from brute ideology):

"For example, take the idea of competition in schools. OK now, what is competition in schools? What does it really mean? Well, competition in business means you have somebody who's in a business that has a profit motive in it. It's measured every quarter. If the business doesn't keep up, the business is going to lose revenue, therefore it has an incentive to restructure, reorganize, re-plan, re-compete and stay in business.

Schools aren't businesses. Schools are institutions of public service. Their job--their product--is not measured in terms of revenues gained. It's measured in terms of young lives whose potential can be realized. And you don't measure that either in terms of popularity of the school, or in terms of the standardized test scores in the school. You measure it child-by-child, in the interaction of the child with the teacher, the parent with the teacher, and the child in a larger environment later on in life.

So when people say that competition is-this is sort of sloganeering, "Hey, you know, schools need this competition." No. I've challenged people: Tell me why it is that competition would improve a school. Most of them can't explain it. It's just like, "Well, competition improves everything so therefore it must improve schools."

If you want to improve schools, you've got to go inside the processes that make a school great. You've got to look at the teachers, their qualifications, their motivation, what it is that gives a teacher satisfaction, what it is a teacher wants to do in a classroom. We've got to empower teachers. Give them an opportunity to lead in the classroom. Teachers are the most important leaders in America. All that is lost in the sloganeering of this party. And the American people know it's lost. So you asked me to give you one thing about this party that's in power -- it's the sort of doctrinaire ideology that doesn't really understand the country that we're living in."


You're quite right ... he should be talking about education. His views are way-out-there original on this issue (compared to the normal timid Democratic massaging of Republican balderdash) and quite appealing.

Ruy, for chrissakes, are you for Demo unity or are you a Clark shill? Which is it?

Maybe you need another blog for your Clark cheerleading, because it's really annoying to find it here amongst the pleas for unity. You just can't have it both ways.

How is "empower teachers" any less sloganeering? I'm no fan of NCLB -- just about every teacher I've talked to has thought it was somewhere between misguided and malicious -- but I think it's at least an attempt to get past vague, unquantifiable notions of how to improve schools. How do you make "empowerment" more than just a survey and some waste-your-time 1-day seminars?

Education is a good issue, but when I think of the current crop of candidates, I see it as one John Edwards owns. Now, I'm not an Edwards supporter, and I realize his poll numbers are abysmal, but it is one that he mentions on a regular basis with the sort of productive suggestions that you suggest Clark should use.

Education is one of Edward's four main sections of his web site, along with Jobs & the Economy, Security, and Health Care.

His college plan offers one year of tuition in exchange for 10 hours of work a week. He wants to end the use of legacy preferences in college admissions. He supports returning student loans to the government rather than the farmed out to banks status they enjoy now.

He has other ideas for K-12 education, but they're all here on his Education page at http://www.johnedwards2004.com/education.asp.

How about making a college education of some kind universally available to young people?

Someone else already pointed out that John Edwards has addressed this.

I think it's an extremely stupid idea. By all means, let's, just as Democrats have an edge in fiscal responsibility, propose massive new spending programs of dubious value. How much do you think tuition will go up if the fed gov begins paying for it? Please.

My mom's a kindergarten teacher, so please don't flame me.

I actually like Matt Miller's idea of bribing teacher's unions with big pay incentives, while getting them to agree to streamline firing procedures for bad teachers. It's so hard to fire a teacher--my HS gym teacher got convicted for selling cocaine, and it still took a few months to get rid of him.

If you believe in empowering teachers because they're the most important factor in education (that a school can control), you should believe in allowing schools to fire bad teachers.

Sean, I think the point is that using false business-model measurements based on standardized testing--measurements that we've all seen (as in Houston) are open to heavy manipulation--and then punishing challenged schools by taking away their money is a recipe for disaster, not success, with public education.

So anyone brave enough to come out against high-stakes standardized testing and its use in funding formulas is doing a big service here. Perhaps what he is saying is that there is no number-crunching sort of means to apply to education that actually leads to desired results, that the complexity of the entire educational enterprise must be acknowledged and investigated further, and that easy ideological "fixes" are not the answer.

This was not his policy statement on education (available on clark04.com). It was an example within an interview of the out-of-touch ideological bent of Republican policy. Vague yet? Sure. But it is the start of an approach that challenges a harmful Republican-inspired (and Democratic-assented) policy that will inevitably lead to much harm to the public education system. It's big-picture thinking that we need.

Hey Cris: I want to defend Ruy here against your charge that he's shilling for Clark while hypocritically calling for Dem unity. Yes, he's doing both, but it's not hypocritical.

OK, so it's been obvious for some time that Ruy is a Clark guy and thinks Dean is not the best candidate, on typical issues-oriented, inside-the-Beltway grounds. Ruy's buddy John Judis has come out and called a Dean nomination a "disaster."

But Judis' intemperate comments show the difference between someone who doesn't care about unity and someone who does. Ruy has never made the kind of gloom-and-doom, self-defeating comments about Dean -- or any other candidate -- that a lot of middle-of-the-road analysts and pundits have.

Party unity doesn't mean you must stop advocating for your candidate of choice. It does mean that you make your arguments in a measured, calm tone that doesn't offer fodder for the GOP. It does mean that we all respect each other and stay open to the arguments coming from our fellow Dems.

Good idea Ruy. It plays very well to woman (Moms) who are vital to our success. Although I don't think free college is the answeer. Free college is fiscal insanity and would merely drive up the cost to paying customers. I guess an issue like this means I am a centrist Dem. Secondly to Praktike, lets keep in mind why teachers have protection. I had long post talking about how a teacher pissed off an administrator and was demoted and would have been fired if not for tenure. Deleted it in the interest of brevity. Also, we need the teachers unions to get anywhere. Lets not pick on them. There are many incompetent teachers and administrators.

Did you get that universally available college thing from "West Wing"?


I saw the General's education comments from Josh Marshall's interview when it was originally posted and thought the same thing. His comments are both correct and refreshingly on point when it comes to what's currently happening in public education.

Samela --

I think we're on the same page here with respect to NCLB's problems, and the general direction in which we should go. My point was just that the quote below had very little substance. I'll have to read his policy statements to see how he unpacks "teacher empowerment".

Excuse me, but in an era of enormous budget deficits, where is the money for making a college education universally available supposed to come from?? I want Clark to succeed, but making impossible promises a la Schwarzenegger doesn't strike me as the way to do it (especially since a Democrat President elected in 2004 will almost certainly have to work with an intensely hostile Republican Congress).

Universal College Education. What a great idea. Amazing that some candidate hasn't thought of that.... wait... Kucinich! Yeah, I've heard of him.


How about that part of his platform is free universal tuition to state universities.

Well, he may not be unique in advocating it, but at least Clark would know he'd have at least 1 vote in Congress for it right out of the gate :)

As I understand his critique of Education, it is very far reaching. First off -- the actual professionalization of teachers -- a real professional wage, real continuning professional education, upgraded workplace (schools) and much else. Objective, to attract more quality motivated persons into education, and keep them and value them. Clark talks of statring salary equal to entry level in Business and technology.

Clark comprehends Lifelong Education. If people are to have 4-5 careers in a lifetime, retraining and skill upgrades are going to be essential. He seems to be suggesting an element in the old Populist Program -- Sabbatical's for everyone. Last night listening to his Phillips Exiter forum on C-Span he edged into it again -- noting that it was bad social policy to give the profits from increased productivity only to the wealthy -- they need to be invested socially. Lifelong Education or Sabbaticals for all could be the target for his social investment for productivity gains.

I've also heard him discuss school finance issues early on, with reference to fiscal disparities. He happens to know a good deal about this because of his years directing the National Training Center at Fort Irwin where the Army frequently had to remediate due to the vast differences in recruit preperation on entering service. I think he needs to discuss this in greater depth. NCLB did not really address this.

"Has Clark Got His Mojo Working?"

...no...wait, i saw him on the daily show!!!

to be serious though, Clark may have a better chance of winning than Dean on his platform, or when you take into account candor or heritage or past occupations, but Dean is the kind of guy who is fired up and has a real passion, but I don't quite see that in Clark. He seems too neutral emotionally.