Friday, June 6, 2008

Shanker Blows Up the World

The review Vera Pavone and I wrote, "Albert Shanker: Ruthless Neocon" of Richard Kahleberg's "Albert Shanker: Tough Liberal," is appearing in the summer edition of New Politics and is a good corollary to the article below since it focuses on the educational aspect of Shanker's actions and how it has done so much harm to teacher unionism. The review will be available shortly.

A must read by Thomas Sugrue in the November 12, 2007 edition of The Nation.
A lot of the background of democratic party politics - super delegates, the McGovern impact, the fractures of '68 being played out today are laid out. And Al Shanker and Richard Kahlenberg on Shanker are part of the structure of today's debates. (It was no accident the book came out last summer and was funded by the likes of Eli Broad and other regressive ed reformers.)

The article also goes a long way towards explaining the philosophical underpinnings of the UFT/AFT and their alliance with the Clintons that goes way back to the early 80's, before Randi Weingarten ever set foot in the UFT.

A choice nugget (amongst many) from Sugrue:

...the new Democratic orthodoxy evoked a wholly fictitious American past. The Democrats needed to turn the clock back to the antediluvian moment--that is, before 1968--and restore the economic opportunity, colorblindness, family values, law and order, and personal responsibility that supposedly reigned before hippies, rioters, anti-American activists and multiculturalists took over.

The man named Albert Shanker did not drop the bomb on liberalism. But he was no small part of a political and intellectual Manhattan Project that exploited the fractures of New Deal and Great Society liberalism and empowered the New Right to rebuild from the rubble.

Kahlenberg pines for a Shankerist political order. If only the Democrats had listened to Shanker. If only they had adopted a "tough liberalism" that jettisoned pesky identity politics for the neat politics of class interest; if only they had embraced meritocracy rather than harmful racial "quotas"; if only they had stood up to the dual menaces of communism abroad and rampant crime at home; if only they had rewarded merit and hard work rather than capitulating to the fashions of multiculturalism and "extreme bilingual education," then they could have thwarted the Republican juggernaut.

The full aticle is at Norms Notes.


  1. Really interesting article. I don't know nearly enough about Shanker or about the described period of time, but I have a question for you.
    I don't feel that Sugrue made a logical enough argument for Shanker's leap to the right. He associates Shanker's change to 'like many white liberal men of his generation--was mugged by the '60s.'
    It doesn't seem like enough of an explanation to me.
    Is there more to it than Sugrue explained or am I missing the magnitude of it?

  2. First of all, we need to deal with Sugrue's statement about Kahlenberg/Shanker's wish to "jettison pesky identity politics for the neat politics of of class interest". Kahlenberg and Shanker use class as a foil in an argument against affirmative action and efforts to give greater voice and power to the black community. However, when it comes to taking class-based political positions vis-a-vis the corporate banking, real estate, international oligopolies, whose policies were anti-working class, anti-poor, anti-public education, anti-affordable housing, anti-universal health care, pro-tax cuts for the rich, pro-spending for wars and subsidizing arms manufacturers, etc., Shanker was consistently defending the wrong class.

    Secondly, the question of how Shanker's supposed conversion from militant unionist to tough liberal. We argue that there really wasn't any conversion. He wasn't a liberal who was mugged; instead his agenda was determined by his political affiliation with a group of "social democrats" who privileged their fight against socialists/commmunists/pacifists/black activists over any real commitment to education and worker rights. And despite their alleged concern for democracy in leftist countries, political parties, unions and worker confederations, they pulled no punches in undermining activism and democracy within the UFT and AFT.


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