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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Substance vs. Substance

posted by on January 17 at 15:24 PM

Originally posted yesterday. I’m moving this up because I posted it last night after everybody was in bed. Juicy debates in the comments thread about nuclear power and merit pay for teachers, if you’re interested. —Annie

The charge that Obama lacks substance is completely specious. It’s become a commonplace in this campaign, but that doesn’t mean it’s accurate. The accusation stems from the relatively modest number of policy proposals Obama enumerates in his stump speeches—speeches which help set the tone of a campaign but which are not the primary source of information for most voters. (We can’t all live in Iowa or New Hampshire.) There is an enormous amount of detail available at his website for anyone who’s interested in specific policy matters.

Further, let’s keep in mind that promises made during campaigns are not magically realized after a president is elected. The proportion of voters who buy into a candidate’s vision (and the enthusiasm they exhibit) has a huge impact on the feasibility of that president’s agenda once he or she takes office. I believe Obama’s reticence about wonkish detail on the stump is part of how he’s able to appeal to such a wide audience: The greater the precision with which you describe policies, the more chances a voter has to disagree with you. This was, as many have realized, George W. Bush’s exact strategy in 2000—and guess what, it worked. (Well, except for the whole winning the election thing.) He made a sharp right turn upon taking office, and thanks in part to a roll-over-and-play-dead Congress (which included first-term senator Hillary Clinton), he was able to ram his agenda through. Obama’s agenda would be both progressive, in contrast to Bush, and innovative, taking on some entrenched interests that Clinton is afraid to touch.

To address Erica’s specific points:

On the environment. Erica points out that “Clinton voted for higher fuel efficiency standards for SUVs (S 517, 2002)”—but somehow overlooks the fact that more recently, in 2005, Clinton voted against an amendment which would have boosted CAFE standards to 40 mpg by 2016 and moved SUVs out of the “light truck” loophole. At the time, Grist noted that Clinton had “presumably done some electoral math and decided [she] didn’t want to piss off Michigan.” Obama voted yea on that amendment (alongside Cantwell and Murray, if you’re curious). Yes, Clinton’s newfound support for tougher CAFE standards brings her to a goal of 40 mpg by 2020 and 55 mpg by 2030 (Grist has a good graph on all the candidates’ positions on enviro issues). Obama has so far matched only that first milepost—40 mpg by 2020—but, crucially, he would also toughen the standards for SUVs to 32 mpg by that same date. Clinton hasn’t touched the light truck category. Moreover, Clinton has never, so far as I can tell, sponsored legislation on this issue. Working with Washington’s own Jay Inslee in the House (and a number of hawkish Rs in the Senate), Obama introduced the Health Care for Hybrids Act in 2005, 2006, and 2007, along with the Fuel Economy Reform Act to increase CAFE standards and close loopholes in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Erica slams Obama for promoting nuclear power without mentioning that Clinton claims to be “agnostic” on the subject (talk about lack of substance!). I share some doubts about nuclear power, but when the most pressing issue facing the planet is global warming and the most accessible fuel source is coal, issues like nuclear storage NIMBYism start to look less insurmountable. Oh, and speaking of “pie-in-the-sky” notions like “clean” coal and ethanol, Clinton LOVES ‘em (her Strategic Energy Fund would fund 5 new coal-fired plants; you can read all about her love for corn-based ethanol at her website). Barack Obama’s energy plan is available here (download the PDF at the bottom).

On foreign policy. I am one of those liberals who has not forgiven Hillary Clinton for voting to authorize the war (especially because she continues to insist that it wasn't a vote to authorize the war!). Senators who voted to go to war with Iraq were not misled by the pathetic evidence presented by Powell, Rice, et al. They were, rather, persuaded to put aside their skepticism because it was politically expedient. That kind of reasoning is reckless and irresponsible, and it's not what I'm looking for in a president. But that's in the past. More pressingly, Clinton's hawkishness has not diminished as a result of her wanton adventurism in Iraq: She voted in favor of declaring Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization.

On health care. I don't like mandates to pay into third-party health care plans and I'm not convinced that HRC's government would be able to guarantee full subsidies for people who can't afford those plans. But we've already beaten this issue to death. I assume everyone knows where the candidates stand.

On choice. Hillary Clinton has flagrantly distorted Barack Obama's record on choice. I find this behavior sickening, and about as far from substantive debate as you can get. Obama may not sponsor much pro-choice legislation in the Senate, but it should be obvious that it makes for smarter public relations to cede leadership on choice issues to female senators. He has a perfect voting record on choice, and there are zero indications that he would be weak on the issue as president.

On gay rights. Again, Erica has purposefully omitted one of the primary points of contrast between the candidates. Obama favors the full repeal of DOMA. Clinton wants to keep section 2, a states' rights provision that expressly permits states to disregard same-sex marriages granted in other states. (DOMA was signed into law by one Bill Clinton.)

And I'll venture into one additional topic: I do think it's important to look at Obama's education proposals, which are far more ambitious and innovative than Clinton's. Clinton is very much toeing the line set by teachers' unions, and she's been rewarded with endorsements and even lawsuits favorable to her campaign. (Obama has not courted the unions so assiduously.) Her education proposals include universal pre-K (Obama also has a plan to dramatically expand access to pre-K and Head Start) and expanding mentorship programs to reduce the drop-out rate (Obama favors a more comprehensive approach: "Obama will address the dropout crisis by passing his legislation to provide funding to school districts to invest in intervention strategies in middle school, such as personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time"). But the most interesting parts of Obama's plan have to do with teacher recruitment, training, and retention. He wants to fund scholarships for future teachers who pledge to serve in a high-need field or location for four years. He wants to create Teaching Residency Programs that funnel talent into high-need districts via partnerships between public school systems and area universities. And he supports individual merit pay for teachers, including extra pay for skills like bilingualism where needed. Clinton's rejoinder? She doesn't care to pay individual teachers what they're worth, but "school-wide incentive plans" pass muster. Yeah, that's a fantastic idea. Make it even more attractive to teach at a high-achieving school--that'll totally address exacerbate the achievement gap.

RSS icon Comments


B-b-b-b-but ... experience! Experience! And Obama is, uh, inexperienced and stuff, 'cuz he's only had two more years in office! Steep learning curve!

Posted by shameless regurgitator of HRC talking points | January 16, 2008 11:15 PM

To call merit pay a solution to anything is to be incredibly ignorant about the education system. As a teacher from a family of teachers, I can tell you with authority that while merit pay sounds like a great plan on the surface it carries with it a host of incredibly insidious problems. Because merit pay is decided upon by administrators, what happens is that it is generally awarded to those people who are closest to those administrators, i.e. their friends. Even those principals and admins who aren't intentionally being corrupt fall victim to seeing the awesome extra-curricular stuff their friends are doing for students before seeing the activities of people they aren't as personally close to. FURTHERMORE, the only non-subjective part of merit pay systems in the past has been basing merit pay, in part, on standardized test scores (which have their own problems, but are the only even moderately objective system we have). What part of the merit pay system does Obama want to remove? The standardized test part.

Which means we'd be basing an entire system of pay on the entirely subjective opinions of administrators, and also pitting all of the teachers in a school against one another for pay raises when they should be working together to benefit their students. Which is why most major teachers unions decry the plan- it benefits only a few teachers, keeps the rest of them underpaid as they have been, and the students end up suffering for it.

But, other than that, yeah, Merit Pay is totally "progressive".

Posted by Sara | January 16, 2008 11:19 PM

It's pretty useless to be parsing the two candidates' platforms at this point -- my point being that virtually none of their policies will be implemented in exactly the detail they put out in their policy papers.

Major policy initiatives don't get drafted in the West Wing basement and then suddenly spring full flower into law -- Hillary discovered that some years ago in the HillaryCare fiasco.

There will be pulling and tugging among senior staff and of course the two houses of congress, and what gets passed into law will invariably look different from what's first proposed.

I like Obama not because of policy nuances but because he has a better chance of being successful than Hillary. The R's will throw everything they have, at either one in the WH, but Obama has, or will have, enough teflon to persevere and succeed. Hillary...I'm just afraid they will keep her penned in responding to charge after charge, limiting her ability to get anything done. Hey, it worked with Bill....

Posted by Perfect Voter | January 16, 2008 11:25 PM

@2: I never said merit pay claimed to be "progressive." Progressives, along with teachers and their unions, don't like merit pay. I do think it's innovative, and a smart place to buck the special interests. It's hard to recruit smart kids to join the teaching profession in part because they don't believe they'll be rewarded for doing exceptional work. Merit pay helps change that.

Look, bosses all over everywhere get to pay their employees according to how much they believe those employees are contributing--including in higher education. I think it's completely legit to leave that decision up to administrators. I also understand that teachers' unions disagree, and that's their prerogative.

Posted by annie | January 16, 2008 11:27 PM

Did you also conveniently skip the part of HRC's plan where she addresses using financial incentives to draw teachers to high need schools? Or the part where high-need schools are given extra funds for staff developments and trainings?

Posted by Sara | January 16, 2008 11:28 PM
Which means we'd be basing an entire system of pay on the entirely subjective opinions of administrators ... it benefits only a few teachers, keeps the rest of them underpaid as they have been, and the students end up suffering for it.

So who should the system of pay be determined by? Who is better qualified to make such judgments? Would you say a system in which salary is totally independent of actual performance on the job is the best system possible?

Posted by Dr. Worm | January 16, 2008 11:31 PM

@5: No, that's all fine and good, and Obama has similar proposals. But I don't think this addresses the issue of recruitment to the profession, just recruitment to needy districts.

Posted by annie | January 16, 2008 11:32 PM

I also find it interesting that Obama has said on a few occasions, that as he wasn't privy to any of the congressional security briefings at the time that the U.S. went to war with Iraq, he wasn't sure what he would have done were he in the position to make a vote. It's super-fascinating to me that Obama's supporters are all familiar with all of the security briefings, their nuances, and certain of how he would have voted when he has openly said that he's not.

Posted by Sara | January 16, 2008 11:33 PM

Scholarship programs for teachers already exist in many states- as well as programs which forgive the student loans of teachers who stay in the profession. That is not an innovative idea.

And I certainly wouldn't want principals deciding pay for individual teachers. When you introduce inequitable pay structures in a school, you create unnecessary tensions among your staff. Some kind of merit based pay scale is very attractive IN THEORY, but when it comes to implementing such a structure in an actual school, it is absolutely awful. More than anything, Obama's ideas about Merit Pay tell me that neither he, nor any of his advisors, choose to actually listen to teachers or their needs.

Posted by Sara | January 16, 2008 11:41 PM

@8 - It's super-fascinating to me that HRC supporters always make it sound like the authorization vote was unanimous, even though a majority of House Democrats and 23 Senators (including Obama's seatmate Sen. Durbin who answers to the same constituency) opposed the measure. But I guess bad experience is still experience.

Posted by Poll Watcher | January 16, 2008 11:41 PM

We should all take to heart the last time we elected a two term senator that was a lawyer from Illinois before we consider Obama.

Seriously, after all, what did Lincoln really accomplish?

/sarcasm off

Posted by Colton | January 16, 2008 11:44 PM

@8: I really can't keep doing this all night, but this is one issue that keeps coming up. Here's the New York Times interview you're attempting to refer to (it was conducted in advance of Obama's speech at the 2004 D Convention in which Kerry and Edwards, both of whom voted for the war, were being feted):

He opposed the war in Iraq, and spoke against it during a rally in Chicago in the fall of 2002. He said then that he saw no evidence that Iraq had unconventional weapons that posed a threat, or of any link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

In a recent interview, he declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time.

''But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,'' Mr. Obama said. ''What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made.''

But Mr. Obama said he did fault Democratic leaders for failing to ask enough tough questions of the Bush administration to force it to prove its case for war. ''What I don't think was appropriate was the degree to which Congress gave the president a pass on this,'' he said.

This is a diplomatic response in support of the D nominee for president, not backsliding.

Posted by annie | January 16, 2008 11:49 PM

@8: Sara apparently thinks that Democrats should take every oppurtunity to attack our nominee all the way up to and beyond the convention. Don't worry, if Hillary is the nominee, I plan on taking your advice to heart.

Once upon a time I could have enthusiastically gotten behind a Hillary presidency, but her race baiting whisper campaign and lying sacks of shit for surrogates and supporters (Sara, ECB, Taylor Marsh amongst many) have convinced me to sit out the general if she's nominee. Her anything goes style of campaigning is too much like Bush's anything goes style of governing and I want no part of that.

Elections have consequences and the manner you've conducted your's has ensured there'll be plenty. Maybe she'll win anyways. Maybe she won't. I won't waste any time or energy in any case. You've made your bed. Have fun.

Oh, and health care mandates aren't progressive no matter how many times you claim otherwise. It's like suggesting we can eliminate hunger by making it illegal to not buy food. Jailing people for not buying health insurance is pretty much the antithesis of progressivism.

Posted by ru shur | January 17, 2008 12:08 AM

Re: @5,

The big dif, though, is this: Not only is Clinton proposing to draw teachers into lower-income districts in her campaign speeches... But she's already done it—for real—legislatively.

She got millions from the feds for a teacher recruitment program in New York state, and passed a bill to fund a similar recruitment campaign nationally.


Posted by Josh Feit | January 17, 2008 12:11 AM

@19: Good for her. She should stay in the Senate and keep doing that hard, hands-on, nitty-gritty work. HRC for Senate Majority Leader!

Posted by annie | January 17, 2008 12:17 AM

Thank you Annie, your brief analysis of the difference between the candidates is the best I've read.

Posted by Mrs. Jarvie | January 17, 2008 12:46 AM

Clinton is such a *politician*. Just watching her non-answer on the NY state driver's license for illegals issue was enough to make me seriously question her. She did the same semantic games with the issue of whether she supported the Iraq war. Enough with the lawyerly parsing and just tell us your position!

Posted by nothanks | January 17, 2008 12:52 AM

You need to look into the "read more" function on your blog software.

Posted by superyeadon | January 17, 2008 1:17 AM

I only hope that The Stranger made the right decision to endorse Obama. It seems Annie and Eli know what's up. Erica keeps on conveniently ignoring when candidates say things that simply are not true. I don't care if she's not inspired by Obama. The man speaks with (at the very least) a higher percentage of truth than many politicians give us, let alone anyone with the last name Clinton. It's like people have totally forgotten the vitriolic nature of the nineties (I know most of us were a lot younger, granted) and the "'is' is" etc era, and how the Democrats were bled in Congress to a ludicrous degree, and how the country was locked in a silly impeachment trial for a long long time that held everything at nearly a standstill. For a dumb reason? Absolutely. If Bill was willing to be just slightly more up front about things, though, he could have saved us all a big headache.

But that's just skimming the surface. How about the bald-faced lies Hillary gave us last night in the debates? The only people that swallowed her defense of Bob Johnson are those that didn't pay attention to the quote in question. How about the distortions and negative mailers (Obama's campaign has yet to send any.)

I'm on the ground in Nevada right now, plugging in 15+ hour workdays for the Obama campaign, and let me tell you, if any one of you walked into an Obama office and then walked into a Clinton office, you'd be blown away by the difference in temperament, fervor, manpower, dedication, tone, etc. That is NOT simply cheerleading. Ask anyone who was in Iowa what the differences were. Eli? It's the difference between a call from an unpaid volunteer and a robocall.

John Edwards' record simply does not match his rhetoric. He's been less than honest as well, but I'm willing to grant him more leeway because he'll actually own up to some of his past mistakes, even if his opportunistic populism just plain doesn't fit with his Olympic-sized swimming pool and, let's say, the majority of his voting record. He's not doing nearly as well in the polls, and he doesn't get that boost of a former President spouse. He's just got the cancerous spouse, and all politics aside, that isn't easy for anyone. My heart goes out to him and Elizabeth.

I refer any of you to Obama's speech after New Hampshire and the moment after finishing when Michelle approached him. More human than anything I've seen all race. I recommend you compare it to Hillary's victory speech. Watch the crowd in the back. Listen to her tone. She's whipsmart and an effective politician, to be sure. For some people, being an effective politician isn't enough. I happen to be one of those people.

I know much of what I wrote seems based on "impressions." I'm more than happy to have a policy discussion with anyone (especially Erica, whom I extended the offer to months ago.) But I'm PO'ed about the baseless claims that Barack does not have substance or that he is not experienced. His years as a community organizer, a civil rights attorney, and a constitutional law professor, among many others (I recommend checking out his state senate record) are resounding endorsements.

Posted by Graham | January 17, 2008 1:54 AM

WTF? Even more long, rambling political commentary? I can get that at 3000 other blogs, I just came here to find out who's playing at the Comet this weekend.

Shouldn't you be writing another disposable movie review?

Posted by We report, you click | January 17, 2008 2:36 AM

Democrats frustrate the crap out of me. At least the Republicans had the sense to embrace Reagan when given the opportunity.

Posted by MEME | January 17, 2008 3:15 AM

re: DOMA -- What's wrong with states' rights? Why should Iowa values be imposed upon Illinois or vice versa? The "father knows best" argument that the federal government knows what's right for the states doesn't fly.

States' rights is a founding principle of this country that's been enshrined in the Constitution. We may want to turn a blind eye to the Bill of Rights, but we ought not to ignore what is the supreme law of the land.

Posted by not a neo-confederate but... | January 17, 2008 5:27 AM

@11: He started the War of Northern Aggression....


Posted by NapoleonXIV | January 17, 2008 7:55 AM

okay, so he's anti doma.

then why did he tour sc with a bunch of homophobes?

why couldn't he come up with any apology for doing so?

smacks of stupidity to me.

annie you are blind in your lust for obama.

Posted by lineout fan | January 17, 2008 8:15 AM


And now we're full circle: reject the substance of fully repealing DOMA for the symbolism of whether or not Obama apologized for a supporter.

You'd rather have your apology than getting rid of DOMA? Which one would have more effect on people's lives?

Posted by elenchos | January 17, 2008 8:37 AM

". . .it should be obvious that it makes for smarter public relations to cede leadership on choice issues to female senators. . ."

Actually, I don't find that "obvious" at all. We want a president whose goal is smarter public relations?

Posted by Jane | January 17, 2008 8:42 AM


Considering it's the 10th Amendment that enshrines states's rights (all rights not enumerated in the Constitution are given to the several states), it's the Bill of Rights that created states' rights in the first place.

Posted by NaFun | January 17, 2008 8:43 AM

Substance and policy wise, I can handle Hillary OR Obama (though the finer points ARE interesting and thank you Annie, Eli, and ECB, for parsing them out clearly).

My support for Obama continues to be that he's a galvanizing, exciting political presence who can attract independent voters (the ONLY way to win) and even Republicans who are disgusted with the hijaking of their party and government by the Bush/Cheney Oil Junta.

Obama can win.

Most of these voters crucial to an electoral victory are very turned off by Hillary (rightly or sexist/wrongly, ECB) and hence doom her to defeat.

We have to think strategically as much as substantially this time. Kerry had some great ideas, and communicated them with all the skill of a crumpled trombone. If there are going to be Diebold shenannigans, the ONLY way to countermand them is to have a candidate who WON'T make it a close election.

Posted by andy niable | January 17, 2008 8:44 AM

States rights are great and all, but I hardly think they trump human rights. That was one of the points of the civil war.

Posted by Mike of Renton | January 17, 2008 8:44 AM

Whoops -- got interrupted there and hit send accidentally! What I mean is, Obama will stay silent on things he has strong views on because he's worried about public relations? That's really not what I want in a leader. I'd be IMPRESSED if men started speaking out about women's rights in the Senate. I wouldn't be all, "Hey, now, that's a topic for the GIRLS, Senator!"

That statement's ridiculous.

Posted by Jane | January 17, 2008 8:44 AM

The major contrast is not in wonkish detail (though Clinton can run rings around him there, and he knows it).

The problem is his Big Picture: a blank page in an enormous, ornately-gilded frame.

What's in the Big Picture? Big Promises, of course, but what are they? And how are they delivered? Whatever they are, they are unprecedente in scope -- and in dreamlike ineffability.

You've had a dream, haven't you, that you thought was an epiphany til you tried to write it down or describe it to a friend?

Obama's Big Dream is that the ghosts that have chased us down through American political history will never catch up with us after we Turn The Page; that the live demons of conflicting interests, ideologies and identities will retreat permanently to their lairs, or bow down in fealty, or simply evaporate, in reaction to his First Inaugural ... and likewise for the forces of international conflict.

What are we promised? That sausage will be made by a process we wouldn't mind watching as we munch on the links fresh off the line? How will this work, exactly? And how do we know?

That's the missing detail. Obama is no empty suit -- why is he running as one? And why are people buying it?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | January 17, 2008 9:04 AM

You forgot that Congress was basically in the hands of Republicans in 2001 (Senate was 50/50, but Senators are very independent of party lines), making it a lot easier for Bush to "ram his agenda through."

You can't get things done in Washington DC by ignoring how the system works, that's why lobbyists can still buy Congresspeople meals and why John Edwards' Patients Bill of Rights never passed. Clinton, on the other hand, has actually gotten things done.

In a general election campaign, Obama is going to be the inexperienced kid who did drugs and grew up outside the country, oh and P.S. Joe America, did you know his middle name is Hussein? The only thing the Republicans have against Clinton is the same shit they've been throwing at her for the last 15 years, which the voters are tired of hearing about, and in all that time she's gotten pretty good at handling herself in the face of a scrutinizing press and a rival political party that couldn't hate her more. Talk about experience!

Posted by it's ME | January 17, 2008 10:34 AM

Others will continue to examine every fine point of candidates largely meaningless platforms, but this was quite the statement from Annie:

"issues like nuclear storage NIMBYism start to look less insurmountable"

Uh, Annie...the problem is we still don't have a safe way to transport or store nuclear waste. It is not NIMBYism. If we had a safe way to store it, it might be--but we don't.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | January 17, 2008 11:49 AM

Wow! A well-written Slog post about the candidates, that's actually researched (with links!) and is fair and balanced.

You go, Annie!

Posted by Mickymse | January 17, 2008 11:50 AM

@2: Yeah, what sort of crazy mixed-up system has your boss judging the quality of your work? Much smarter to simply pay your staff based on their degrees and the number of years they've been at work in one district.

Posted by Eric F | January 17, 2008 11:53 AM
When you introduce inequitable pay structures in a school, you create unnecessary tensions among your staff.

Just like in just about every other workplace in this country?

My workplace isn't unionized, but it might as well be with the lack of concern with merit pay and my boss's refusal to fire or demote incompetent employees. That creates a hell of a lot more tension in my workplace than if we didn't have to cover the asses of our lazy coworkers, and get paid the same amount that they do.

Obama's ideas about Merit Pay tell me that neither he, nor any of his advisors, choose to actually listen to teachers or their needs.

Funny, I thought we should be concerned about children and their needs.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 17, 2008 12:12 PM

tiptoe tommy @ 33

Uh, Annie...the problem is we still don't have a safe way to transport or store nuclear waste. It is not NIMBYism. If we had a safe way to store it, it might be--but we don't.

Bullshit, we have plenty of safe ways to transport and store nuclear waste, what we don't have, and what we will never have, is a perfectly safe way to do so that has absolutely no possibility of failure. This is what makes the stupid fucks in the environmental movement lose their shit. Now, if the stupid fucks in the environmental movement were equally concerned about the fact that we currently transport millions of gallons of a toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, flammable and when mixed with air highly explosive substance on our roads every day, and that that billions of gallons of this substance are stored in underground tanks near their homes, schools and churches. But environmentalists don't shit themselves about gasoline, do they. Nope, they go down to the local gas station and top off their Prius and then drive to their Sierra club meeting without ever batting an eye.

The fact that environmentalists shit themselves over nuclear power has more to do with the fact that nuclear power is scary, and thus a convenient bogey-man to use for fund-raising among stupid and ignorant urban hicks who learned everything they know about ecology from watching Bambi and less with its relative safety compared to other means of generating power.

When called on their ignorant bullshit the standard counter-argument of the know-nothing environmentalists is to point out that nuclear is so potentially dangerous that it must not be permitted. and to point out the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Of course the environmentalists ignore the fact that the RBMK reactors used at Chernobyl were badly designed and built and had no containment structures and that the accident at Chernobyl took place because the plant operators didn't know what they were doing and overrode most of the plant safety mechanisms while ignoring warnings. And of course at Three Mile Island the containment structure worked and there was no release of radiation.

But if we're going to be intellectually honest about this whole "well, it's too potentially dangerous" argument then I'll submit that the events of 9/11 prove that air travel is far too dangerous and that it should be banned. 3,000 people died on 9/11, thousands more were exposed to toxic clouds of dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center and the fires, yet despite this you don't see any environmentalists calling on a ban of either air travel or tall buildings because of the potential dangers they represent. And if you're shitting your pants over the potential release of radiation from a nuclear fuel cask then I recommend that you look at some pictures of what things look like after a gasoline tanker truck crashes and burns.

Environmental puritans, who, when it comes down to it have so much in common with Christian control freaks when it comes to wanting to control the lives of others, are going to condemn me for saying this but I like electricity. I like having cold beer, hot showers and electric lights and I like the fact that I can have these things and not be bankrupted by them. I also like clean air and a stable climate and most other people, who aren't eco-puritans, like these things too, so if the choice is between coal, which is hideously filthy even before it's burned, solar and wind, which despite environmentalist claims are decades away from providing the kind of power we need, or nuclear, or reducing my standard of living to that of a third world subsistence farmer in the name of mother Gaia then full speed ahead with the nuclear plants.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | January 17, 2008 2:45 PM

It's not like, for most of her history, Sen Clinton was usually on the wrong side of issues (remember FTAA and NAFTA, children?) or had a hard time working with other people ...

Oh, wait, it is.

Look, she'd be a great Pres, but I'm going with Obama.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 17, 2008 3:46 PM
Uh, Annie...the problem is we still don't have a safe way to transport or store nuclear waste.

We've found ways to reduce the quantity and toxicity of waste in recent years. But yes, it's true, nuclear waste still needs to be stored somewhere. You know what else we haven't found a good method of storage for? The massive amounts of carbon unleashed by burning millions of barrels of oil every day. There's a tradeoff at work here, you see.

Posted by tsm | January 17, 2008 3:52 PM

Even time a self-important Stranger staffer moves their post up the SLOG list for some rationalized reason, Jesus kills a kitten.

Posted by Big Sven | January 17, 2008 3:53 PM

Every time a Stranger staffer self-importantly moves a post up the SLOG list, Jesus kills a kitten.

Posted by Big Sven | January 17, 2008 3:57 PM

Every time a dumbass doubleposts, the world cries.

NAFTA rocks.

Posted by Big Sven | January 17, 2008 3:59 PM

annie is hardly fair and balanced when it comes to o vs. hrc.

she is blatantly pro o.

Posted by lineout fan | January 17, 2008 4:15 PM

"When you introduce inequitable pay structures in a school, you create unnecessary tensions among your staff."

I am a teacher and I am writing this quickly so I can go to my night class to help bring new instructional strategies to my program. What creates tension in my work place is the fact that no matter how much I work and how carefully I structure my program to increase student achievement I will still be paid the same as the dumb fuck down the hall that doesn't give a shit and is totally incompetent. The dumbfuck that parents complain about year after year.

How crazy would it be for your bosses or your performance to determine how you advance in your job?! Schools would fall apart if they weren't set up to reward mediocrity! God dammit where else is equal pay for unequal work valued? What other profession believes that there is absolutely no way to assess an employees performance. Fuck, there is nothing magical about teaching. Good teaching needs to be recognized and rewarded and the incompetent teachers need to shape up or get fired.

Posted by Teacher | January 17, 2008 4:28 PM

I thought it was that Jesus wears a mitten, Big Sven ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 17, 2008 4:29 PM

don't you get it? they are both terrible! vote for the green party!

Posted by kevin | January 17, 2008 4:33 PM

As a libertarian lurker who would vote for a Republican but is too repulsed by Huckabee and Romney, this series of posts gives me a great crib sheet on whom to avoid on the Democratic side.

Posted by lurker | January 17, 2008 4:38 PM

@43 Annie's at least as balanced as Josh and Erica.

Posted by Mike of Renton | January 17, 2008 4:38 PM

A double high five to #44! That is all.

Posted by Phoebe | January 17, 2008 4:54 PM

Yes Annie, but none of this matters because the most important thing to Erica C. is that Hilary is a white woman with a vay-jay-jay while Barack is a scary negro who reminds her of all of the drug dealers she has to share the bus with every day, and whom she's always bitching about, you know, the ones who will disappear because drug dealers, the handicapped and stinky people won't be allowed to ride Link light rail.

Erica supports Hilary because she is, like HRC, a vaginal-American.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | January 17, 2008 5:02 PM

Hey Sara, I know that requiring teachers to actually perform to some objective standard horrifies you but here's a little quiz. Which public school in Washington D.C. did Hilary and Bill Clinton send their daughter Chelsea to while they were in the White House?

The answer is "not a single fucking one of them because DC public schools suck shit!" They didn't want to send their precious daughter to a public school. Oh no, she went to Sidwell Friends, a nice, lily-white private school. Oh and Al Gore III, the dope smoking, oxy-snorting, Adderall popping Prius driving son of well known enviro-pundit Al Gore; he went to school at Sidwell Friends and St. Albans.

So here you have Hilary Clinton, who talks this great game about public education and who the corrupt and useless apparatchiks in the NEA have sold their asses to, basically saying "Yeah, public education. It's great." but then sending her daughter to a private school, presumably because she wants her to get an education and not be warehoused in a classroom run by some useless hack of an NEA member who was barely smart enough to get an education degree (a completely useless piece of paper that says nothing about your ability to teach) and doesn't have to meet any performance objectives other than showing up and not fucking the students to continue pulling down a salary.

Think about it Sara. The NEA and AFT hand the Democratic party and Democratic candidates all sorts of money but despite receiving all of that tasty largess those despite those Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama, prefer to send their children to private schools. They love your money, they love your votes, but when it comes down to it they're not willing to trust their children to you.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | January 17, 2008 5:23 PM

I just love cogent, reasoned dialog.

I just want a Democratic candidate who can attract Independents and the Republicans who are repulsed by what's happened to their party by the Bush/Cheney Oil Junta.

Hmmm, now which candidate would that be?

Posted by Andy Niable | January 17, 2008 8:17 PM

@51 Best comment of the day! And there have been some damn good ones....

Sometimes I wonder about the Stranger staff.. they really really believe they are ohh so brilliant and witty with their opinions.

Then I read a reply like @51, and I'm thankful that there really are readers out in cyberspace who should be the ones creating the blogs and articles for the Stranger/Slog, and I feel cheated to have to put up with all their silly banter and "political positioning" of candidates and their platforms, when they are truly intellectual amateurs.

Thanks for making my night 51.

Posted by Reality Check | January 17, 2008 8:23 PM

btw Annie

Thanks for the awesome post. I think you truly did hit this out of the ballpark. My former post was meant to endorse wile_e_quixote's brilliance.

Posted by Reality Check | January 17, 2008 8:26 PM

Sorry about the lag between responses- I've been at school teaching and coaching and then prepping for a trip.

The problems with merit pay are legion. There's the fact that it's not able to be equitably distributed. The fact that when it has been implemented in the past it HAS NOT WORKED. It's not "innovative", it's not progressive, and it hands down is a failure. Much of its ideas are grounded in the idea that you don't have to pay all teachers what they're worth- you just have to pay a few lucky ones at the top, and the rest will work harder to get to that level, and pretty soon everybody who deserves it will get extra pay! Forget the fact that Merit pay systems function on the idea that only a FEW select teachers will ever be selected to receive the bonuses.

In 1987, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Edcation and Labor concluded:

"Those who view merit pay as some fast, inexpensive, painless method of solving the nation’s education problems are not realistic. Merit pay is. . .neither inexpensive. . .nor easy to achieve. In some school districts, performance-based pay will result in an improved educational product, and an ability to attract and keep high-quality teachers; in other districts, for a variety of reasons, it may not work. The question the nation must face is not simply how to implement performance-based pay for educators but how we can lift the standards of instruction in the nation."

But fundamentally, there is one critical underlying assumption that exists in those who advocate for merit pay: that the problems with education in this country are the result of teachers who are lazy sacks of shit who got into education for the money.

Guess what? People who go into teaching for the money should be never get past teaching exams in the first place, because they don't understand math. "I can make a couple thousand dollars above the poverty line after racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans? Sweet! Throw me some of that sweet, sweet rich people money!"

Are there bad teachers? Yes. Are there lazy teachers? You betcha. Are the majority of teachers hardworking people trying to genuinely improve education, although they are repeatedly denied adequate resources for themselves and their classrooms? Yes. People don't fall into teaching. They go through years of education, test preparation and then spend hours a day in a job that can drain the most patient person. I've been in that situation where I've worked with someone who I thought was just an idiot- just the worst kind of teacher. And consistently, these "bad teachers" are people who were repeatedly cut down by the system they worked in- not mentored, not given any guidelines or help in setting up their classroom. People who wanted to help but could not for the life of them figure out how they could implement change in their students lives. Merit pay does not help people become better teachers. It doesn't reinvigorate teachers to work harder. It holds a bonus over their heads that it is entirely likely they will ever reach.

For a much better written and more interesting examination of Merit Pay, Read "The Folly of Merit Pay", by Alfie Kohn.

Kohn is one of the most widely respected educational theorists working in the field today. Please read the article before defending merit pay further.

Look, I'm not saying Obama isn't a good candidate- he is in many ways. On merit pay? He's completely fucking ridiculous.

Posted by Sara | January 17, 2008 10:40 PM

Education policy discussion--sweet!

@2: The leap you're making that I don't think has to be true is to assume that merit pay has to be decided by the administrators. Denver's ProComp model gives us a good way that it can be done objectively, as does the system they're trying out down in Houston. Further, since salary is a mandatory subject for bargaining in Washington State, any plan in this domain would have to go through your local association first.

@4: I have a hard time believing that capable people are bypassing teaching as a profession because they don't think excellence is rewarded, and that merit pay would fix that problem. If a starting teacher's salary is $30,000, a 10% merit bonus at the end of the year is still only $3000. That's still not going to be enough to get your best and brightest to bite, IMO.

@35: Why put so much faith into the hands of the principals? There are terrible administrators out there who do run their schools on spite and malice, and that's the absolute antithesis of the sort of person you want deciding if you are meritorious or not. The salary schedule didn't come out of the ether; it serves a very real purpose that benefits the profession as a whole.

@44: And here is your bad principal at work. Teachers can be fired. I've been the union rep in the meeting where teachers have been let go. The reason it doesn't happen more often is because of laziness on the administrative side, laziness born of defeatism: "Woe is us, we can't possibly beat the WEA!"

@55: I fart in your general direction.

Good night!

Posted by Ryan | January 17, 2008 10:49 PM

For further information about Merit Pay, check out:

Talks about how "innovative" merit pay is (it's been around since the 1700's):

Myron Lieberman's take on Merit Pay:

Posted by Sara | January 17, 2008 11:02 PM
Posted by Sara | January 17, 2008 11:04 PM

For what it's worth, when I've heard Obama talk about merit pay, he treats the subject as one that requires further study as to specifics. He thinks teachers should be paid more, that good teachers should be paid more, and that money is an incentive.

He knows teachers don't like it, but he told them, at a speech somewhere, that he was for "some form of merit pay." I do believe that his process for policy formation is to bring everyone to the table - he certainly proved that with his death penalty reform, inviting prosecutors and cops to said table. And the legislation that came out of that was the famous mandatory videotaping of interrogations, and it passed unanimously because he got everyone to agree.

I'm not here to debate or contradict your objections to merit pay; I don't know enough on the topic. But I think you should take the inflammatory phrase with a pinch of salt when Obama says it, and not panic unduly, because history shows he's one who can be persuaded by facts, and who listens to people who disagree with him. For what that's worth.

Posted by Phoebe | January 18, 2008 3:06 AM

I could get behind Obama if he showed any signs of knowing what the fuck he's talking about with respect to Social Security, or at least having the good sense to not keep defending his "crisis" meme after it's shown to be bullshit.

It might also be nice if he had the political sense to not tout himself as the next coming of Reagan. That kind of shit might bring over Republicans to his side, but not everybody buys into the myths surrounding his presidency.

I'd rather had a progressive than a "uniter". The Overton window has shifted so far to the right in recent years that I fear that Obama's serious with his unity rhetoric, and he'll end up as a quite conservative president.

Posted by Bison | January 18, 2008 12:00 PM

Bison, why do we have to choose between "uniter" and "progressive"? Obama united everyone on every side of that death penalty issue, and got a bunch of cops to endorse a progressive, potentially life-saving bit of legislation so that it passed unanimously. Look at the deeds and not just the words. This uniter thing - I'm thrilled if people start treating each other with respect, but I'm even thrilleder if actual progressive stuff gets done. And uniting people behind it is how it gets done.

Posted by Phoebe | January 18, 2008 2:39 PM

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