The Blog

HOW REPUBLICANS LOST THE EDUCATION ISSUE

11:00 PM, Nov 24, 1996 • By CHESTER E. FINN JR.
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

But to make the case, one must be able to place the evidence before voters - - Just how did the unions keep real charter legislation from being enacted in Ohio? in Indiana? in Georgia? -- and dangle copies of those hundred-page bargaining contracts that make it impossible to fire incompetent teachers or reward great ones. One must present details of how much money the unions' PACs contributed and to whom. Names of NEA officials who played key roles in the Clinton-Gore campaign must be named. Quotes from the bizarre resolutions passed at their conventions must be cited. Proof that the AFT executive council last summer rejected a serious "teacher quality" initiative proposed by union president Albert Shanker must be offered. More specimens of union- generated mischief must become fodder for commercials. Taking on the teachers' unions, in other words, is a big political project, and not just an acceptance-speech sound-bite, as it was for Dole.

Without a major effort, it's easy for teachers to get away with the "he who attacks my union attacks me personally" response we heard so often this year. Since most Americans have a warm feeling toward their own child's teacher, this circling of the union wagons produced a fortified target that Dole could never vanquish.

To sum up, these are the four hard-learned lessons for the GOP from the experiences of the 104th Congress and the recent campaign:

1. Say what you're for, not what you're against -- and what you're for is saving public education, not destroying it.

2. Don't hang it all on vouchers.

3. Recognize that the audience is naive -- and the opposition plenty shrewd -- about what it means to be "for education" but "against the education establishment."

4. Heed those who have had success in this area.