Obama’s Empty Promise
Out of all the writers in your special “Obama Years” issue [Jan. 2/9], I align myself with Robert L. Borosage [“Was Barack Obama a Transformational President?”] and Eric Foner [“Teaching the History of Radicalism in the Age of Obama (and Bernie)”]. As bright and charming as Obama is, he never conveyed a passionate urgency about progressive causes. He was cautious, centrist, and nonconfrontational. Hundreds of thousands of people of color are still serving out draconian sentences from the awful War on Drugs. The primary skill set that Obama brought to the job was his amazing rhetorical ability. I always had the sense that he knew the importance of the civil-rights movement but was not a protester at heart. Yes, the difficulties he faced were huge—and he will doubtless look very good compared with his successor—but something was missing. And that something extended to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, thanks in large part to her embrace of Obama.
Lessons in Privatization
As a retired educator, I was delighted to read Dana Goldstein’s comprehensive evaluation of Barack Obama’s legacy in education [“The Education of Barack Obama,” Jan. 2/9]. His appointment of Arne Duncan as secretary of education and his choice to continue the test-and-punish model with his Race to the Top initiative were big disappointments to those of us in the field. These decisions signaled that the privatization of public education, as pressed by the Broad Foundation and others, was going forward.
It took a while for the president to realize that the high-stakes testing model was damaging real instruction, and he made a good change of course by signing the Every Student Succeeds Act. However, public education now faces a new adversary in the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Trump’s secretary of education. DeVos is even more committed to dismantling public education in favor of for-profit charters and vouchers for private schools. (In a recent tweet, she called public education a “dead end.”)