Obama Flip-Flops on School Choice, Catholic Group Says
July 18, 2008While Republicans are criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama for alleged flip-flops on various issues, a Catholic organization last week criticized Obama for apparently changing his stance on school choice.
Speaking to a Wisconsin newspaper in February, Obama said he was skeptical about providing government vouchers for children to attend private schools. However, he seemed to indicate he would be open to the idea.
“If there was any argument for vouchers, it was, ‘Let’s see if the experiment works,’” Obama said. “And if it does, whatever my preconception, you do what's best for kids.”
The flexible approach was less apparent when Obama spoke to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) last week, where he pledged to oppose any voucher proposals. (See Previous Story)
That was a case of pandering to the union that opposes vouchers, said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a Catholic civil rights group that supports school vouchers.
“It’s so easy to tell the media that keeping an open mind on school vouchers is the best way to go,” Donohue said in a statement last week. “But when cash counts – and the American Federation of Teachers has plenty of it – who cares about principle? Fact is, no amount of empirical evidence was ever going to change his mind.”
Obama told the AFT – shortly after the union endorsed his candidacy – that his Republican opponent’s “only proposal seems to be recycling tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice.”
Obama told the teachers’ union that he supported public charter schools, but added, “What I do oppose is using public money for private school vouchers. We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools, not throwing our hands up and walking away from them.”
The previous week, presumptive GOP presidential candidate John McCain told the League of United Latin American Citizens convention that “the civil rights challenge of our time is education. We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition. … We need to empower parents with choice.”
McCain’s campaign Web site says, “If a school will not change, the students should be able to change schools. John McCain believes parents should be empowered with school choice to send their children to the school that can best educate them just as many members of Congress do with their own children.”
Obama has been facing Republican scrutiny for apparently changing his position on a number of issues since Sen. Hillary Clinton dropped out of the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Many Republicans and independent political analysts say Obama has flip-flopped on public financing, phone surveillance for national security reasons, gun rights, Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capitol,” and a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, among other issues.
Democrats have in turn criticized McCain for apparently shifting his stance on immigration reform, domestic oil drilling and tax cuts.
The flip-flops, or policy shifts, seem to have affected Obama slightly more, according to a recent poll.
A slim majority of Americans does not think Obama always believes what he says, according to the CBS/New York Times Poll. The poll said that 51 percent believes Obama tells people what they want to hear, while just 43 percent believe Obama says what he believes. That’s down by 10 percent since May among those who think Obama believes what he says, according to the poll. (See Poll Results)
Those numbers are slightly better for McCain, though less than a majority, 46 percent, thinks he says what he believes, down from 51 percent in May. Still more people, 49 percent, think McCain says what people want to hear.
Obama’s campaign did not respond to several requests from Cybercast News Service for comment on this story.
School choice proposals have gained support in many minority communities, but Donohue said that apparently did not affect Obama’s view.
“Obama now joins a long list of African-American elites who wouldn’t dare send their kids to an urban public school, but who works hard at every turn to deny poor black parents the same options he and his wife are so lucky to have,” Donohue said. “We hope that Catholics, as well as African-Americans, get the message.”