Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Bipartisan?

Out promoting a new book, former Washington, D.C. , school chancellor and current head of the anti-union school reform group Students First Michelle Rhee appeared with Politico's Glenn Thrush on Friday. In the course of defending criticism of her organization's ties to prominent conservatives, she declared that "this is actually the cool thing about what we're doing - this is bipartisan."

Bipartisan?

Out promoting a new book, former Washington, D.C. , school chancellor and current head of the anti-union school reform group Students First Michelle Rhee appeared at Politico’s "Breakfast Club" on Friday. In the course of defending criticism of her organization’s ties to prominent conservatives, she declared that “this is actually the cool thing about what we’re doing — this is bipartisan.”

It’s understandable in our perverted media and policymaking environment that Rhee would want to adopt the bipartisan label. Many in Washington oddly believe that label alone should trump sound policy, effectiveness, or even morality.

As evidence of the bipartisanship, Rhee touts the support of several Democratic mayors -- the political equivalent of the “some of my best friends are . . . “ 

However the record of Students First reveals an organization whose politics are far from balanced. In 2012, 90 out of the 105 candidates it supported were Republicans “including Tea Party enthusiasts and staunch abortion opponents.”

And in the organizations own documents it views Democrats as the enemy. A PowerPoint presentation for activists in California, clearly demonstrates this leaning,

“Californians have demonstrated an appetite for reform, yet powerful special interests and large democrat majorities in all branches of government bottleneck progress within the legislative arena.”

The use of the pejorative “democrat,” a term typically used with derision by Republicans to describe the Democratic Party, is in itself revealing of the organization’s bias. To be fair, a second interpretation of Students First’s presentation could be that the election of elected representatives by the people of California is itself anathema to the organization’s goals.

A similar PowerPoint targeting Michigan does not contain the same derogatory language, but clearly positions the organization in opposition to Democratic lawmakers:

"The 2010 election ushered in a new period of state government leadership, with both chambers Republican-controlled. The Michigan legislature has passed a number of important education reforms in recent years. These reforms have put the unions on the defensive. The House Democratic leadership is very closely connected to public and private sector labor support. The perceived onslaught of anti-union legislation has made that relationship closer."

Bearing in mind the value of bipartisan positioning, it’s no surprise that Rhee and Students First would want to maintain that stature. It’s the responsibility of the media not to allow this assertion to go unchallenged.

The evidence affirms that Students First should be viewed in the same political context as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association. While occasionally contributing to and otherwise supporting Democratic candidates, these are groups whose political strategy would in no way ever be described as bipartisan.

Or the D.C. media could end its fetishization of bipartisanship and instead focus on good policy. But, then, we live in the real world. 

Ari Rabin-Havt
About this blog
Ari Rabin-Havt is host of The Agenda, a nightly national radio program airing on SiriusXM 127. He is also a senior adviser to Media Matters and was on the faculty of the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. He is co-author of "The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine" and has served as an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic National Committee and worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign. Reach Ari at TheAgendaAri@gmail.com.

Ari Rabin-Havt
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