Monday, May 12, 2008

What Will the Tough Liberals in the UFT Do?

With a UFT Delegate Assembly coming up this week, it will be interesting to watch how Randi plays the Obama/Clinton issue, if she does so at all - we don't see how she can ignore it.

In his post (reprinted below) to ICE-mail, Sean Ahern challenges the Tough Liberals in the UFT's controlling Unity Caucus and makes the important connection between the "Tough Liberal" world of 68/72 and 08/12.

First let me try to put some of the stuff in historical context. Though I lived through all of it, Richard Kahlenberg's "Tough Liberal" bio of Al Shanker has allowed me to make many connections between the current Obama/Clinton battle with the past.

One of the striking aspects is Kahlenberg's attack on McGovernites, Jimmy Carter, the new left, the old left, and just about any progressive forces – the New Democrats. As I read the book it seemed in some ways like a campaign statement for the Clintons. I won't get into the education stuff here, but the Clintons are the epitome of the candidate TL's are looking for. No wonder the book is funded by the likes of Eli Broad and the New Century Foundation, among other backers of BloomKlein.

A book praising Al Shanker backed by the very attackers of teachers and unions? No surprise in these quarters where we have been howling about collaboration for years. It provides some philosophical underpinning of the utter betrayal so many teachers in NYC feel over the actions of their union. But you'll have to wait for our review of the book for more details when it appears in the New Politics summer edition.

Kahlenberg raises issues surrounding race time and again in terms of critiques of affirmative action. Of course, Shanker was not a racist (and I believe that) as his credentials as an activist in the Civil Rights movement are trotted out time and again, as is his relationship to Martin Luther King. But the net effect of Tough Liberal actions were and are often severe racial divisions. The parallels between '08 and '68 are astounding. Perhaps they see Obama as a recipient of some kind of affirmative action while Hillary has worked her way up the ranks. You know. The good ole' merit system, which in their world Obama appears to have skipped. (Does a wife of a president count as affirmative action?)

What irony in the replay of 40 years ago when the '68 convention, which followed the first lesser known UFT strike in Ocean-Hill Brownsville that spring and then was followed by the famous strike later that fall, an event that caused so many rifts in the Black/Jewish relationship, though Gerald Podair points out in his "The Strike That Changed New York" there were many already existing fault lines.

Similar fault lines also existed between the white– "hard working" as Hillary recently put it– working class which Tough Liberals are courting so assiduously and the pointy headed intellectual (Obama supporters today?) over the Vietnam War. Remember the attacks by NYC construction workers on peace marchers? Or the police assault on Columbia students in '68? The white working class vs. college students replayed today. Jeez. My choice to be a history major is reaffirmed every day in the fascination replay of events.

A major focus of Kahlenberg is on foreign policy. Tough Liberals preferred Nixon over any Democrat not aligned with them. Shanker was perfectly aligned with Ronald Reagan in that area despite his attacks on labor. The number of Shankerites that became neo cons is worth noting (Linda Chavez is a prime example.)

Thus, what we are seeing today in Tough Liberal Clinton's battle against what they perceive as New Democrat Obama. Again it often comes down to foreign policy. Enough damage has been done that the undercurrent I get from much of the Jewish community is that they will never vote Obama. Hillary will bomb Iran to smithereens while Obama might engage in a dialogue.
Who do they want? A Lyndon Johnson type candidate who will do non-threatening civil rights stuff while bombing the gooks/Arabs into oblivion.

Education? That takes 2nd place to wars and bailouts in the TL world. After all, their main focus is to keep any hint of socialism out. Tough Liberals will do with whatever piece of pie they are given to work with. Thus, ed reform means improving teacher quality by eliminating seniority and union rules and investing in peace corps, missionary teachers and staff development. But never in class size reduction.

So watch Unity Caucus and their supporters in New Action continue to sit and squirm - there must be some people, especially African-Americans who are not comfortable with what's going on. What Randi says at the Delegate Assembly this Weds. should be interesting. Since she reads the blogs, she will tread very carefully knowing full well her words and nuances will be out there.

This is something Weingarten is very good at and how she says it will be an indication of the way the Clinton campaign will begin attempts at reconciliation – with the 2012 conept in mind if Obama shoud have a McGovern-like disaster. (I know the paid pundits are discounting this, but I am not as anything can happen in politics.)

I'm betting on a strong statement from Randi about how all the union's resources will be out there for the Democratic nominee no matter who he - oops - is. After all, an AFT Pres. must play the proper political role. But if Obama loses in November, Hill in '12 begins.

Will the "Tough" Liberals sit out an Obama candidacy in 2008 like they did McGovern in 1972?
by Sean Ahern

Don't let the Unity Caucus slink quietly back into the woodwork until 2012. I think some of them will have to be brought into the campaign against McBush kicking and screaming. The Shankerites sat out the McGovern campaign in '72 and ended up with Gerald Ford as President in '75. Ford told the city "Drop Dead" during the fiscal crisis and 20,000 teachers were laid off. Ford was followed by Carter who sounds alot better now than he did in the 70's.

A McCain victory gives Clinton and the 'Tough" liberals another shot in 2012 or so they think. Sitting out the Obama candidacy, at least unofficially, makes sense from their view. I think the 'tough' liberals at 52 B'way will need some 'tough' love, like a proverbial slap for their own good, to awaken them to the greater danger. As for those who prefer Nader or McKinney, or some other party, I say more power to you and the people you bring out, as long as you are bringing people into the fight against McBush in one way or another. The Obama camp is the main contingent as far as I see and that where I will be, but there is plenty of room in a movement for different candidates and different platforms provided the focus is positive and not fratricidal . The polls make it pretty clear, if the people's vote is counted , the Republican control of the executive branch will end.

It's a very dangerous gamble to bet that the Republic will survive four more years of McBush and the neo cons. It is a very dangerous thing to 'triangulate' with or embrace facists, white supremacists, right wing evangelicals, Likud fanatics thinking that you can control them for your own ends. The German ruling class thought they could use the Nazis against the Communists. The Republican oligarchs have made a similar pact to hold onto to power and prolong the Empire by embracing a very hard core right wing which they continue to believe they can control. It is dangerous for any citizen in a democratic republic to dawdle and fret over the unsatisfactory programs of both Clinton and Obama while our basic rights and the rule of law are being eliminated by the Executive Branch under Republican control.

The race baiting used by the Clinton campaign was a 'coming attractions' for the Republican campaign (assuming Obama is the Democratic candidate) but Hillary and Bill haven't told the Republicans anything new here. All Hillary accomplished was to disqualify herself. The Republicans will go further into attack mode because they have far more to loose than Hillary and Bill.The Clintons just took a page from an old playbook of the Republicans, who took it from the Dixicrats before them. (And this from the candidate endorsed by the AFT leadership, whose members are charged with educating children of color in many of the country's largest urban school systems?)

What may we expect from the Republican executive during the campaign season? An attack on Iran following some new phony Tonkin incident? A domestic terror attack just prior to election day? Hackable voting machines (no question mark here, they are already in place!), on top of the racial disenfranchisement that has already gone on, and who knows what additional schemes are in the pipeline to keep the Republicans in office. There are too many skeletons, too many crimes. The neo cons will do anything to escape the prison cells they so richly deserve and politicians only care about winning. It's a deadly mix.

The threat to freedom is real. We all have to come together, sound the alarms and stop McBush from setting the world on fire. Whether you are for the Democrat Obama, the Independent Nader, the Green McKinney, or any other candidate who opposes the current regime, get out there and agitate, organize, picket, vote. If you are a Unity Caucus member or a supporter of Clinton you can't afford to sit this one out. The world as you know it won't be there after four more years of Republican control of the executive branch.

Sean Ahern
Sean, a former NYC transit worker, teaches high school in Manhattan.

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