Last week, a press release landed in The Scrapbook’s inbox informing us that author Matt Taibbi would be talking about his new book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, at an event hosted at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) headquarters. Now there’s no particular reason anyone should really care about this book. Taibbi is the corporeal confluence of every unpleasant journalistic trend imaginable. He’s long considered vulgarity a sport and solidified that reputation as the author of an article called “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope.” (The piece was written in the last days of John Paul II, and trust us, it’s even less funny than it sounds.) Nonetheless, the transgressive derring-do required to say insulting things about Christians and Republicans for no apparent reason earned Taibbi a number of high-profile gigs. Most recently he left the desiccated husk of Rolling Stone to join Glenn Greenwald’s the Intercept, which we gather is a niche quarterly devoted to Edward Snowden apologetics.
Since we suspect that the worst thing we could do to Taibbi is praise him, we will note that he has matured in recent years and has made waves by directing his ire at such targets as Thomas Friedman and Wall Street, two perfectly worthy subjects for vitriol. Friedman’s New York Times column is increasingly an embarrassment, and we suspect that even hardcore Tea Partiers share Taibbi’s disgust with the opulence and recklessness of American financiers. Taibbi’s recent book is concerned with hedge-funders fleecing public pension funds, and that complaint is not without merit.
However, if you want to discuss income inequality, you must also necessarily discuss the role some unions play in exacerbating it. And by extension, that means you should really care about education reform. Which brings us to the mind-warping display of hypocrisy required to host a book on “the wealth gap” at the Washington headquarters of America’s second-largest teachers’ union.
After being under federal investigation his entire term for running a dirty campaign (which resulted in several arrests), Washington, D.C., mayor Vincent Gray recently lost the Democratic primary and is on his way out. Gray was elected to replace Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2010 after just one term. Besides illegally funneling money from wealthy developers into his campaign, Gray won his mayoral election largely because the AFT and its affiliate, the Washington Teachers’ Union, spent over $1 million to oust Fenty. Fenty had crossed the AFT because he made the mistake of bringing in a nationally known education reform figure, Michelle Rhee, to fix D.C.’s schools.
By several objective measures, Washington, D.C., has the worst public schools in the nation while managing to spend the most money per pupil. Among other unforgivable transgressions against the AFT, Rhee wanted to fire the city’s incompetent teachers and test children to see if they were actually learning. And it’s not even up for debate that the D.C. teachers’ union is corrupt. A few years before Fenty and Rhee tried (and failed) to fix D.C. schools, a coterie of Washington Teachers’ Union officials were caught embezzling $5 million to buy designer goods, furs, and artwork and to underwrite lavish vacations.
So if you’re going to write a book railing against selfish avarice creating income inequality, by all means complain about Wall Street. But it’s a bit rich to then promote that book with “heavy hors d’oeuvres” at the headquarters of an organization whose primary accomplishment these days is enriching themselves at the expense of giving poor kids a remotely competent education.