By Andy Kirchoff
Conservatives who subjected themselves to the
Obama 2012 Campaign Kickoff Speech…err, I mean, the State of the Union Address heard what could be legitimately be described as a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Broad generalities, rather than specific policy prescriptions, dominated his address; by aiming to please rather than to lead, the President’s speech left me more confused about his goals than confident in his leadership. There were a select few times, however, where I found myself nodding my head in tacit agreement with the President last night. One of these notable exceptions was on the subject of education. Obama’s call to end No Child Left Behind is an idea that I, along with many other conservatives, am very receptive to. I was also surprised to hear Obama give what sounds an awful lot like a defense of merit pay, an idea conservatives have been championing for years: “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones,” said the President, to which a generally subdued Congressional Chamber erupted into an uncharacteristic bipartisan applause. Apparently, I wasn’t the only conservative who found those comments heartening. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) tweeted during the State of the Union Address that it “Sounds like President favors tenure reform to dismiss underperforming teachers & merit pay for great ones. We’re on the same page. NJEA not.”
Sadly, Obama’s record on this issue is far from what his rhetoric would seem to indicate. Not only has education reform been practically non-existent during the past 3 years of the Obama Administration; the changes that HAVE been implemented make me cringe. One of the first Executive actions Obama took as President was to destroy the incredibly successful Washington DC school voucher program, an action that liberal commentator Juan Williams called an “outrageous sin against our kids.” When Obama finally did release an education plan in September of last year, the reforms to NCLB were very modest, essentially leaving intact the bureaucratic nightmare of NCLB with some added requirements for teachers. Months later, the plan has yet to gain any traction in congress; in the meantime, homeschoolers worry that Obama’s rhetoric signals trouble for them, and beyond trashing the aforementioned DC voucher program, there’s very little Obama has to show for all of his soaring rhetoric during campaign 2008 and his SOTU address. If he were serious about the issue, he would replicate the reforms enacted by Jeb Bush, Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels (whose excellent response to the State Of the Union Address can be found here), and other conservative governors. Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President.
Obama has a similarly disappointing record on immigration reform. Despite promising on the campaign trail that he would pass immigration reform during his first year as President (an effort that this conservative blogger, may it be known, applauds vigorously) Obama has nothing to show for it other than a record number of deportations from his heavy-handed, big government Secure Communities Program. He’s even mandated that states take part in it; there is no “opt-out,” as there was (and is) for No Child Left Behind. And people wonder why Obama’s approval rating amongst Latinos is low. With amigos like the Deporter-in-Chief, who needs enemies?
Republicans can and must be willing to call out the President’s failure to lead on these issues. Obviously, getting the GOP to talk positively about immigration (with the notable exception of Newt Gingrich) is difficult enough, but as the aforementioned Juan Williams points out in this radio interview, there’s been very little talk about education reform during this primary so far. Given the President’s vulnerability in these areas, I hope the candidates soon begin to offer meaningful alternatives to the President’s “All talk, no action” record. Sound and fury just isn’t going to cut it anymore.