Obama And Malloy

As I observed in my latest column for CT News Junkie, Gov. Malloy is often compared to chief executives of neighboring states (e.g. New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey’s Chris Christie).

But in Gov. Malloy’s insistence on action in the realm of education reform, I see some similarities with President Obama’s insistence on raising the taxes on the wealthy. Both made foolish statements early on that alienated key constituencies and made their goals more difficult to achieve.

As almost everyone in the state now knows, Malloy told his audience in his state of the state address in February that all teachers have to do is “show up” for four years and “tenure is yours.” In one sentence, he insulted an entire group of professionals, made his proposals (particularly tenure reform) almost impossible to pass and ignited a firestorm of criticism that continues to dog him to this day.

Obama also upset the pin-striped crowd when he slammed the financial services community more than two years ago: “I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.” The comment and his subsequent actions poisoned the well and surely made it more difficult to get the business community behind his policies.

Now both are frustrated at the inaction. Consider Malloy’s words at one of his frequent education reform road shows, this one in Norwalk yesterday:

We believe in an evaluation system, and we will pay for an evaluation system. What we don’t embrace is the concept that we have unlimited amounts of time.

In other words, the cause is urgent. Time is of the essence and we’d better do the right thing now.

Consider President Obama’s words today when confronted by Republican charges that his Buffett’s Rule proposal is nothing more than a campaign gimmick that will do little to close the gap between spending and revenues:

I agree, that’s not all we have to do to close the deficit. But the notion that it doesn’t solve the entire problem doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it at all. There are enough excuses for inaction in Washington, we don’t certainly need more excuses.

Same message as Malloy’s. He’s had it with inaction. But, like Malloy, Obama has no one but himself to blame. Both these men could stand a lesson or two in art of accomplishment. And both are trying to accomplish defensible goals for the wrong reasons.

Obama has a passion for raising taxes on the rich, especially those who derive the bulk of their income from investments. Why? As the Wall Street Journal points out in an editorial today, Obama typically frames this passion as a matter of “fairness” rather than of growth or even increased revenues. I suspect this attitude dates back to his days as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago.

In his speech yesterday, the president attempted to reframe the issue in terms of economics, though he admitted raising taxes on the top 1% won’t solve our fiscal problems. Still, it’s tough to get wealthy investors — and those who represent them in Congress — to along with him if the president of the United States has demonized them. Furthermore, you will never fill the revenue gap without raising taxes on everyone. And singling out any class of people does nothing but generate ill will.

Malloy, who was told by his teachers as late as fourth grade that he was mentally retarded and would amount to nothing, has a passion for going after bad educators. But why use a sledgehammer to kill a deer? If the goal is to bridge the state’s achievement gap between the well-off and the poor, why not consider tenure reform only in those schools that are clearly failing? After all, how many parents in Greenwich or Region One think teacher tenure is what ails public education?

Look, I admire any public official who wants to change a failing system and isn’t afraid to step on a few toes in order to do it. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes a little discretion and impulse control can go a long way toward shaking up the system.

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