What the Chicago Teacher Strike Reveals about Obama and “Progressivist” Media

For anyone in doubt about the anti-progressivist agenda of president Barack Obama need one look further than the situation currently transpiring with education in Chicago where the teachers have gone on strike?

Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff in the White House and now mayor of Chicago, is implementing a neoliberal model of education in a city that quintessentially captures Obama’s rightward orientation. After all, Chicago is Obama’s “stomping grounds.” What happens in Chicago reflects on Obama whether he chooses to act, speak, or do nothing. Of course, sitting on the sidelines during an assault on working conditions for teachers is an option for Obama, but it is an option that reflects on Obama. Foremost, sitting silently on the sidelines is usually not an attribute that reflects well on people who pose as leaders because being on the sidelines is by any definition not leading.

NPR finds that the teacher strike is forcing Obama to choose between two allies: Emanuel and union workers (why unions would still be allied with Obama and the Democrats is a question for deeper thinkers). The choice seems like a no-brainer. Consequently, any dilly dallying by Obama no matter which side he comes down on or not belies his neoliberal leanings starkly.

Emanuel wants to tie teacher evaluations to the standardized test results of students. How fair is that?

Imagine if you were a teacher. Who would you want your evaluations tied to: students in schools situated in wealthy neighborhoods (i.e., children from upper socioeconomic status families with parents who are highly educated professionals, have all the educational resources at home, provide optimal nutrition) or children from ghetto areas (where unemployment is rampant, computers connected to the internet are an unheard of luxury at home, and daily nutritional breakfasts and lunches are something kids hunger for)?

Given the transparent inequality of conditions, what is the validity of comparing test scores between students from schools from socioeconomically disparate sections of society? Yet, this is what Emanuel wants to do. If he truly believes that teacher evaluations tied to student performance will improve the test scores of children (and is this what is really most important about education: test scores?), what does this indicate about the critical thinking ability of Emanuel? If Obama decides to go along with — or remain silent about — such a wildly unfair system of comparison, then what does this indicate about him?

The Role of Independent Media in Perpetuating the Electoral Status Quo

So why do so-called progressivist video media outlets in Canada and the United States — such as The Real News Network and Democracy Now! — continue to devote so much discussion to the re-election of Obama — especially given the paucity of their coverage on “third” party candidates?

How does this devotion by TRNN and DN to coverage of the corporate-political duopoly at the expense to “third” party choices reflect on their claimed independence?

The standard argument given is that the election result is a foregone conclusion. “Third” parties are not a viable electoral choice. Indeed, results have borne that out over the years. In line with such results, all media — independent and corporate — have surrendered to the assertion that the corporate-political duopoly are the only viable political parties.1

Even if the assertion is true that media coverage would not affect the viability of “third” parties, what does this say about media that consider themselves independent and progressivist? Does progressivism not demand that genuine democracy is a sine qua non? Is not equitable coverage of political parties and candidates, including accurate reporting of their positions and track records, also a sine qua non of genuine democracy? If these criteria hold true, then — in order to call oneself progressivist — is it not incumbent to pursue electoral coverage that reflects genuine democracy?

Do TRNN and DN provide “third” party coverage that approaches even an iota of the coverage they give to the Republicans and Democrats? If not, are they then advocating genuine democracy? If they are not advocating genuine democracy, then how progressivist are they? If independent media are focused on evilism instead of progressivism, how does this reflect on them?

  1. To be fair, Paul Jay at TRNN (not optimal, but the best independent video news available) is acutely aware of the entrenchment of the corporate-political duopoly: E.g., “… President Obama and the leading Democrats, you know, they fight somewhat in defense of this idea of government and public sector, and in the campaigns there’s some of that kind of language used. But during this last four years, the Democrats—certainly under Clinton, too—they buy into some of the underlying assumptions that they actually share with the Republicans, which gives it a kind of credibility. And then what are people left with? Then it’s just, okay, I like this guy or that guy, you failed, let’s try him. I mean, nobody has any ideological moorings anymore.” One Obama supporter on TRNN clearly pushed her candidate’s lesser evilism: “… by talking about what President Obama has done—and I think he’s not done enough of that, his team has not done enough to talk about accomplishments. But also, although it’s a little bit negative, we have to remind people of what the alternatives are. I mean, Romney–Ryan is not an alternative to Obama unless you want to give up an awful lot.” Jay is not sanguine about a progressivist electoral outcome: “People do have a choice to make here—if they choose to vote, at any rate. And, you know, whatever other candidates are running, there’s no doubt it’s going to be either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.” [italics added] Granted Jay interviewed Jill Stein of the Green Party, nonetheless, TRNN falls far short of providing adequate “third” party the coverage that might lead to changes in the political landscape. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.