December 4, 2014

Jeb Bush And Education

By Bellwether

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A lot of speculation about former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a White House run and what it means for education given Bush’s Common Core support – something he’s not backing away from even in the face of activist pressure that will be an issue in a Republican primary.

Today, Ramesh Ponnuru writes for Bloomberg that,

“…Bush’s stand on Common Core won’t help him much in the general election. For the most part, it isn’t an issue of federal policy. So he has stumbled into a fight with the party base that won’t yield him any long-term political gains.”

That’s probably partly right. Common Core won’t yield Bush many gains but voters are craving authenticity and Bush seems a skilled enough politician to wrap his Common Core stance up in that larger theme for a general election and even a primary. More interesting, though, I  don’t think Bush cares. Agree with him or not, he’s in education because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, not because it gets him much political traction except with the media and reformers.

A few years ago I interviewed him for TIME and in a passage that didn’t make it into the published interview Bush said,

“Normally in politics you try to do things where there is a political benefit.  You believe in the policy and you want the policy to be of some political use.  It’s better when you get the intersection of good policy and politics combined.   In my experience as governor [education] was a constant struggle and I didn’t get the political benefit of building constituencies that benefited from our reforms – which were significant, top 5 almost every category people look at, particularly in the younger grades.  It hasn’t translated into political benefit.”

Yet it didn’t matter, Bush said, because in Florida

“I could win my political things other ways,”

The political question now, looking ahead to 2016, is whether it’s possible to win politically in other ways or if Bush is politically checkmated given the mood of the Republican primary electorate? In general the specifics of education policy do not matter much in presidential elections but here’s a place they just might.

*A question reformers should wrestle with is how to create a politics of reform that doesn’t depend on politicians with a ‘damn the torpedoes’ approach or ones who can win their political things other ways. Sustainable long-term reform ultimately depends on politicians who can win with reform not despite it.

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