Rhee's political mind

Liam Julian

Politico has a long-ish (for Politico, at least) story on Michelle Rhee. Before the electoral defeat of Rhee's former boss and Washington, D.C.'s former mayor, Adrian Fenty?a defeat that, the writers note, ?surprised? Rhee and no one else?the schools chancellor ?had amply demonstrated that she was terrible at politics.? She may also not know much about politics, or history, for that matter:

?I very much believe in the Democratic ideals,? she said, recalling that as a second grader in Ohio, she'd asked her father the difference between a Republican and a Democrat. He told her ?the difference is that Republicans care more about what's going on outside of the country and Democrats care more about taking care of people in our own country.?

One hopes Rhee's understanding of the nation's prominent political parties goes beyond this second-grade-level simplification, which isn't so much a simplification, really, as a distortion. Important, though, for Rhee Republicans?adulators such as Rick Scott, governor of Florida, and Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey?to remember is this: Rhee is a Democrat. Getting beyond the labels, Rhee is someone who believes that public education deserves, needs, more government-bestowed money than it currently gets. She also believes, frankly, in fairy-tale-type stuff, such as the a priori false proposition that all kids can achieve at high levels (not a few Republicans believe this too).* And one worries that her policy recommendations are founded upon such fairy-tale thinking.?More-conservative Republicans may find that for now the ends justify the means, but this won't always be so. Many people have pointed out that it matters more how one thinks than what one thinks, which is often true.

*Yes. I know. It all depends on what we mean by ?high levels.? If such levels are bell-curve independent?in other words, if achieving a high level has nothing to do with how many others do not achieve that level?than yes, it is possible for all kids to reach such heights. But this is not the way of things. These qualitative distinctions are not autonomous. High achievers are defined by their separateness from low achievers. Comparison is king. Of course, were Rhee to dial it down a few notches and say that American students could learn more than they're currently learning her words would be unobjectionable and likely true.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow