Wash. Post's Hiatt distorted Obama's education remarks, touted McCain's "principles"

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt falsely claimed that Sen. Barack Obama "derided" teaching math and reading to "all children, especially poor and minority children" as "preparing children 'to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.' " In fact, Obama suggested that preparation for standardized tests shouldn't "come at the expense of music, or art, or phys. ed., or science." Hiatt also claimed that Sen. John McCain is the only current presidential candidate with "principles" that he "holds strongly enough to take an electoral hit" on issues such as the Iraq war, immigration, and "curbing the influence of money in politics." But McCain has shifted positions and demonstrated inconsistencies on all three of those issues.

In his November 26 column, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt claimed that Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) "positions have shifted over the past several months," asserting that "they've shifted uncannily to where middle-class Democratic voters happen to be." As evidence of these "shifts," Hiatt referred to a November 20 speech on education Obama gave in New Hampshire, claiming that "what [Obama] said about schools was what Democrats and the teachers unions want to hear." Hiatt wrote: "Merit pay for teachers has morphed, in his plan, into a 'professional compensation system designed with the help and agreement of teachers' organizations.' And making sure schools teach all children, especially poor and minority children, to read and do math is derided as preparing children 'to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.' " Obama, however, did not "deride[]" teaching math and reading to "all children, especially poor and minority children," but instead said: "[D]on't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend most of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test. Don't tell us that these tests have to come at the expense of music, or art, or phys. ed., or science."

Additionally, Hiatt claimed that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is the only current presidential candidate with "principles" that he "holds strongly enough to take an electoral hit," specifically citing McCain's positions on the Iraq war, immigration, and "curbing the influence of money in politics." McCain, however, has shifted positions and demonstrated stark inconsistency on all three of those issues.

In his November 26 column, Hiatt wrote:

Barack Obama suggests that Hillary Clinton is guilty of triangulating, poll-testing and telling the American people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

Maybe so. But then it's fair to ask: Is Obama telling the American people anything they don't want to hear? More specifically, as he campaigns for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, is he saying anything except what polls suggest Democrats there might want to hear?

His campaign points to Obama's traveling to Detroit to endorse higher fuel standards for automobiles, his preaching parental responsibility in black churches and his refusing to promise Iowa activists that he will cut the defense budget. He backs driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, not a crowd-pleaser this electoral season.

But to the extent that Obama's positions have shifted over the past several months, they've shifted uncannily to where middle-class Democratic voters happen to be.

Obama still presents himself as the candidate who can rise above the tired old debates and tell everyone "what they need to hear," as he said in an address on schools last week. But what he said about schools was what Democrats and the teachers unions want to hear: Schools need more money. Merit pay for teachers has morphed, in his plan, into a "professional compensation system designed with the help and agreement of teachers' organizations." And making sure schools teach all children, especially poor and minority children, to read and do math is derided as preparing children "to fill in bubbles on standardized tests."

However, as the text of Obama's speech makes clear, Obama did not "deride[]" teaching math and reading to "all children, especially poor and minority children." Rather, Obama said preparation for standardized tests "shouldn't come at the expense of a well-rounded education":

OBAMA: But I'll tell you what's wrong with No Child Left Behind. Forcing our teachers, our principals, and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong. Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong. Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.

And by the way, don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend most of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test. Don't tell us that these tests have to come at the expense of music, or art, or phys. ed., or science. These tests shouldn't come at the expense of a well-rounded education, they should help complete that well-rounded education. The teachers I've met didn't devote their lives to testing, they devoted them to teaching, and teaching our children is what they should be allowed to do.

Regarding McCain, Hiatt wrote:

But campaigning does pose a test of character: Are there any principles that a candidate holds strongly enough to take an electoral hit -- or to try to lead and bring the electorate along -- rather than follow the polls? This year and over the years, we've seen, for example, that John McCain has some such principles: on Iraq, on immigration, on curbing the influence of money in politics. With the rest of the field, in both parties, it's not so clear.

On Iraq, immigration, and campaign finance, however, McCain has demonstrated inconsistency and has admitted to shifting his positions:

  • McCain has been inconsistent in his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. As recently as August 17, McCain described himself as "the greatest critic of the initial four years, three-and-a-half years" of the Iraq war. As Media Matters has noted, however, while McCain has criticized the Bush administration for its Iraq war rhetoric and conduct, he has also repeatedly praised the administration -- saying, for example, on the March 7, 2004, broadcast of ABC News' This Week: "I'm confident we're on the right course. ... I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we'll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this." A December 8, 2005, column in The Hill in by Byron York quoted McCain as saying: "I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq. Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren't making progress, I'd be despondent." At an August 22, 2006, fundraiser, McCain claimed that the Bush administration's "rosy scenarios" about the situation in Iraq have "exacerbated" public "disillusionment" with the war. Just three days later, however, he issued a press release "commend[ing] the President for his public statements offering Americans an honest assessment of the progress we have made in Iraq."
  • On immigration, McCain himself admitted to shifting his position on border security in order to appeal to "the American people's priorities." As the Associated Press reported on November 3:

John McCain spent months earlier this year arguing that the United States must combine border security efforts with a temporary worker program and an eventual path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants.

Now, the Republican presidential candidate emphasizes securing the borders first. The rest, he says, is still needed but will have to come later.

"I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift," McCain told reporters Saturday after voters questioned him on his position during back-to-back appearances in this early voting state. "I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders."

  • Regarding campaign finance reform, Media Matters has noted McCain's shifting stance on rules governing so-called 527 groups. McCain -- after losing his bid for 2000 Republican presidential nomination -- wrote legislation mandating that 527s disclose their donors, and claimed that his "amendment in no way restricts the ability of any individual or organization from spending money to influence the political or electoral system." In July 2000, legislation was passed and signed into law that required 527s to disclose their donors but placed no limits on how much an individual could donate -- legislation that McCain praised as "cur[ing] one of the most outrageous, and most evil, kinds of practices." In 2002, McCain opposed making sweeping changes to the 527 law, and the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill banned "soft money" -- a move that, at the time, was seen by many as hurting Democrats more than Republicans -- but placed no cap on donations to 527s.

However, after progressive 527s proved adept at raising money during the 2004 presidential election, McCain introduced legislation capping annual donations to 527s at $5,000 -- again, a move widely seen as hurting Democrats more than Republicans. On January 31, 2007, McCain introduced the 527 Reform Act of 2007, which required that 527 groups register as "political committees" and capped individual donations to such groups at $25,000 per year. On January 31, McCain's office issued a press release on the legislation, which stated in part: "To put it in simple terms, a [billionaire progressive financier such as] George Soros could give $25,000 per year as opposed to $10 million to finance these activities."

A February 11 Washington Post article also documented McCain's varied stances on 527 groups:

But now the contrast between McCain the presidential candidate and McCain the reformer can be jarring. McCain's campaign says that he is still studying whether to forgo the public financing and spending limits he has long supported, but that he will not be handicapped by restrictions his competitors will not face in 2008.

McCain the reformer worked unsuccessfully through Congress and the courts to try to stop nonprofit political groups known as 527s from using unlimited donations to run political ads and fund other activities aimed at influencing voters in the run-up to elections. He reintroduced legislation last week to end 527 donations, but there appears to be little appetite in Congress to pass it.

McCain the candidate now expects Republicans to use the same big-money 527 groups in the 2008 elections to beat Democrats, if the groups remain legal. "The senator believes that both parties should be subjected to an even playing field. If Democratic organizations are allowed to take advantage of 527s, Republican organizations will, too," said Mark Salter, a senior McCain adviser. The senator declined to be interviewed.

McCain the reformer relentlessly argued that six- and seven-figure "soft money" checks that corporations, wealthy individuals and unions were giving to political parties to influence elections were corrupting American politics. "The voices of average Americans have been drowned out by the deafening racket of campaign cash," he warned just a few years ago.

McCain the candidate has enlisted some of the same GOP fundraising giants who created and flourished in the soft-money system, including Bush's fundraising "Pioneers" and "Rangers," who earned their designations by raising at least $100,000 or $200,000 for his campaigns.

At least six of McCain's first eight national finance co-chairmen have given or raised large donations for political parties or 527 groups, campaign and IRS records show. In all, the finance co-chairs have given at least $13.5 million in soft money and 527 donations since the 1998 election.

Posted In
Education, Curriculum
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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