Why is Mayor Rahm Emanuel giving teachers the shaft by welshing on a contract that guarantees them 4 percent raises every year?
Because Emanuel's governing style requires an enemy, and he’s decided to start by picking on schoolmarms. Like his idol, Bill Clinton, Emanuel is trying to become a master of triangulation. The successful triangulator portrays himself as a moderate figure resisting the outrageous demands of a gang of radicals.
The difference between Emanuel and Clinton is that Clinton didn't’t have to go looking for enemies. Clinton had Newt Gingrich, who looked like a stuffed toad, acting as though he’d been elected president, and lost the public’s support when he shut down the government in 1995. Gingrich, who impeached Clinton for adultery while he was cheating on his own wife, was such an unsympathetic figure that Clinton was able to cruise to re-election in 1996 and add to the Democratic minority in Congress in 1998.
In politics, it’s important to choose your enemies wisely. And Emanuel has decided the enemy of Chicago’s children is an overpaid schoolteacher trying to make ends meet on less than $40,000 a year.
“I can’t, in good conscience, continue an implicit understanding between parties that left our children on the side of the road,” he said. “Just a little north of 50 percent of our kids graduate. Our [test] scores haven’t moved ... I will not accept our children continuing to get the shaft.”
Emanuel didn’t explain why paying teachers a decent wage left schoolchildren by the side of the road, and why the morale-killing move of canceling their raises will improve test scores. But public-employee unions are the trendy political demon of 2011. And attacking Chicago Public School teachers won’t cost Emanuel support among his circle of donors. None of them send their children to Chicago Public Schools.
Just take this first political scrap of the Emanuel Administration as a sign he’s going to be picking a lot of fights in the next four years. If he’s as skilled a politician as his mentor, they’ll be more like Newt Gingrich than a third-grade teacher.
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