Fighting to keep the Democratic Left "Democratic"


How ironic.  Someone over at the Yahoo group Democratic Left seems to think debate about the education policy of the Obama campaign is off limits to public discussion.  

But that has not stopped them from attempting to dismiss my work on this issue with their own version of what I have tagged here as a new form of “left wing McCarthyism.”  In case my readers do not recall what this is – it is a reverse form of the political smear.  Back in the day, right wing anti-communist Senator Joe McCarthy used to brand people communists just because they happen to be friends with actual live communists.  The left, rightly, argued that this was “guilt by association.”  

But today it is certain people on the left – oddly, including some long time left wing anti-Communsts – who are trying to use the charge of  “guilt by association” to stifle debate about the politics of Barack Obama. Leo Casey of the United Federation of Teachers, the big New York city teachers union, has come out to attack anyone, right or left, who raises questions about the relationship between Bill Ayers and Barack Obama.  
Of course, readers here know that I have pointed to the possible influence of Ayers’ views on education on Obama given the deep and long-standing working relationship between Ayers and Obama in the Chicago education wars of the 1990s and 1980s.  Casey dismisses this long professional relationship as a “casual acquaintance.”  He contends that I have “caricatured” Obama education advisor Linda Darling-Hammond  although all I have done is point out that she advocates a race reparations based idea in education: repayment of “education debt” to people of color, as the top priority for the next President.
When I begged to differ on Democratic Left, a site that Casey helped found, I was told that I was making ad hominem remarks and that I was in danger of being kicked off the list.  I was also then told by one Bogdan Denitch, a Serbian historian and a long time fixture of the NYC “democratic” and socialist left, that I should not have been allowed on the site in the first place (even though Leo Casey had made false statements about my work on the site without allowing me an opportunity to respond) and was to be asked to leave the site altogether because it was important to “get the damn republicans out of the White House.”
I replied today in particular to the claim that taking a see no evil, hear no evil approach to Obama was a big mistake for the left.  Here is the post:
Comrade Denitch must think he is operating on behalf of Tito’s thought police.

But in fact this is a public space for members of the Democratic Left (of course, forgive me
if I stumbled into the Left Democrats group by mistake).

I have been a life long member of the Democratic Left (as a writer and labor and political activist) and as such support free and full discussion of important political issues. It is not credible, in my view, for the democratic left to censor, smear or intimidate anyone who raises questions of substance about the policies of a possible Obama administration. It is highly inappropriate for Comrade Denitch to declare, unilaterally, “enough”. That should not be a decision that he is allowed to make for the left.

I have raised a serious and substantial question about Obama’s politics: what is his view
towards education?

His education advisor, Linda Darling-Hammond, advocates a policy based on race that I believe will be divisive and ineffective in solving the problems we face in education. Obama himself has a deep and long standing relationship with Bill Ayers who also supports the same race based policy and has advocated – politically – a race based approach to politics in the United States.

Obama himself has not stated clearly yet his views on these crucial issues. But he appointed Darling-Hammond after she declared her support for “repayment of education debt to people of color” in an article in The Nation and he responded to a question about “reparations” indicating that he might support some form of reparations for inner city schools.

It is particularly inappropriate for Denitch or Casey to attempt to smear my research and writing on this question or to declare the debate at an end when in fact the Economic Policy Institute has led a group to propose a fundamentally different approach to education policy based not on race or reparations but on a multi-factor analysis of the issues feeding the achievement gap between minority (predominantly hispanic but also black) children and white/asian kids and between higher income and lower income kids.

Interestingly, I was allowed to post a blog on the UFT’s EdWize proposing to Obama that he consider seriously the EPI Bold Approach precisely as an alternative to the race-based “education debt” idea. As has been pointed out here Darling-Hammond signed the EPI statement. Since she is the author of the Forum on Education and Democracy blueprint that advocates the reparations-based “education debt” idea one can only conclude that that is where sympathies lie but that she is politically savvy enough (after all, she is considered a possible Secretary of Education candidate) to keep a foot in all camps.

But that is precisely why it is so important to have a discussion about this issue, even if it is to Denitch a lowly boring domestic policy issue. And we should be brave enough to have this discussion even if it invokes the toxic name of Bill Ayers. There is no way to avoid the fact that Obama and Ayers had a close working relationship on educational policy for years. Personally, I would not shake hands with the guy much less work with him. But that is a choice Obama made and there is no way to undo that, ignore it or intimidate people who want to discuss it. It is perfectly understandable that American voters would want to know what it means. And if the left does not explore it openly then it allows the right to own and control the debate on that issue. Big mistake.

At the end of the day it is the politics behind Ayers terrorism that is important – his advocacy of the view that white supremacy and white skin privilege (yes, Jesse) are the central forces in American life. This view is also shared, at least in part, by critical race theorists in America’s schools of education and Darling-Hammond and her co-worker Gloria Ladson-Billings are part of that school of thought. It is this shared outlook on race that led all three of these people to endorse the reparations-based idea of repayment of the education debt. The outcome of the campaign and the impact of an Obama presidency could be deeply affected by their views.

Playing hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil with the soul of one’s preferred Presidential candidate is a dangerous game. Simply declaring the debate over hardly solves the problem.