No Teacher Left Behind

President Obama was in Columbus recently to tout his “jobs bill,” which would spend large amounts of federal money for teacher jobs and school building repairs.  According to the United Federation of Teachers — which, not surprisingly, supports the idea — the President’s proposal would spend $35 billion to preserve teacher jobs and another $25 billion fixing schools.

Why is it always teachers who benefit from these bills?  A lot of lawyers have lost their jobs recently — how about a costly federal program to spur the hiring of more briefcase-totin’, lawbook-quotin’ attorneys, so they can realize the American Dream?  Journalists also could use a hand.  Many newspapers have gone under or radically cut their staffs because nobody reads news the old-fashioned way anymore.  Or what about accountants?  Sure, they’re boring, and perhaps the recession just served as an excuse for companies to unload deadly dull bean-counters because nobody could stand to share a table with them in the cafeteria, but they could use our help, too.  So could insurance salesmen, and tugboat operators, and lumberjacks, and milkmen.

Perhaps President Obama justs walks into the West Wing every morning whistling Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children.  Or maybe he’s heard the taunt about teachers that goes “those who can’t do, teach” and believes that our erstwhile educators won’t be able to find work if they lose their teaching gig.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like teachers — but there’s no reason why they should be favored over everybody else.  What about stimulus spending and jobs bills for every profession, craft, and trade?  It’s become the American Way!

Our “Feisty” President

President Obama has been on the road lately, encouraging people to support the “jobs bill” that he proposed in his recent speech to a joint session of Congress.  Many of the news stories reporting on the President’s speech refer to him as “feisty” — see here and here, for example.  “Feisty” seems like a curious word choice under the circumstances.

“Feisty” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s to mean “full of nervous energy” or “fidgety,” “touchy” or “quarrelsome,” or “exuberantly frisky.”  Other sources define the word to mean “plucky” or “spunky.”  It is roughly synonymous with “cantankerous.”  There’s a reason why “feisty” is typically used to describe the unpredictably outspoken, motorcycle-riding grandmother who foiled a robbery or has engaged in some kind of angry letter-writing campaign to a local business.

Isn’t “feisty” an odd and somewhat dismissive word to use to describe the Leader of the Free World and the most powerful nation on Earth when he is out campaigning for his proposal?  I doubt that President Obama would want to be characterized as fidgety, touchy, quarrelsome, or spunky — it really doesn’t add to his political street cred to be equated with plucky octogenarians.

Suffering From Self-Inflicted Wounds

I think one reason that President Obama’s job approval ratings have fallen over recent months is that his actions often indicate that he and his staff simply do not pay attention to the basics.  When the nuts and bolts appear to be neglected, questions about competence and credibility inevitably will arise.

Consider the President’s recent jobs proposal.  He used a repeated “pass this bill right away” mantra in his speech to reflect the urgency of the unemployment problem.  There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously — for people outside the Beltway, the lack of jobs is an urgent problem and has been an urgent problem for years.  Unfortunately, the President’s ability to effectively convey that urgency is undercut by his not having a bill drafted, and introduced by congressional allies, on the day he gave the speech.  Even now, days later, the “jobs bill” still has not been finally reduced to writing, much less introduced in either House of Congress.  Similarly, despite the President’s statement that the jobs bill is fully paid for, the legislation to achieve that result also has not been drafted or introduced.

Whatever your position may be on the merits of the President’s jobs proposals, these failures are self-inflicted wounds that hurt the chances that the President’s proposals will pass.  By saying “pass this bill right away” when no bill exists, the President is handing opponents an obvious, easily understood “talking point” response.  More fundamentally, the President’s failure to have actual bills at the ready also demonstrates a certain tone-deafness.  In two prior legislative battles, on the initial “stimulus” package and the President’s health care proposal, the actual drafting of the legislation was an afterthought, whereas any American who ever watched Schoolhouse Rock knows that the bill should be the first step in the process.  The stimulus package and the health care legislation turned out to be sprawling monstrosities with special-interest provisions buried in hundreds of pages of legislative text, passed without adequate scrutiny.  The President’s failure to have a written jobs plan bill already written and available for public review just raises the prospect of the same flawed process being followed again — with special interests busily working, even now, to get their pet provisions included.

The fact that President Obama has done this, again, when a different course easily could have been followed this time suggests either that he and his staff have not learned from their earlier mistakes — or that they don’t even consider them to be mistakes.  I’m not sure which of those two scenarios is more harmful to his standing with American voters.