If, in fact, the president wants to cast his campaign as one of class warfare, he's got a ready-made laboratory in Chicago. Or he could use the strike as his Sister Souljah moment, teaching his union base a needed lesson on behalf of the children in his adopted hometown, where he once organized communities.
The president insists he's not taking sides. Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, says he's confident "that both sides have the best interests of students at heart." How could anybody believe that? Jay Carney, the president's press spokesman, says the president's "principal concern" is the children. He should show it.
Presidential politics trumps the children and their families.
Education has been the forgotten child in this presidential campaign, with the main focus on vouchers, which Republicans support and Democrats decry. The president and his friends insist such choice will destroy the public schools, ignoring the fact plain to everyone else that the public schools, once the nation's pride, are well on the way to destruction already. The Chicago strike exposes the teachers unions as exploiters of good will, both the president's good will and the good will of parents, pupils and the rest of us.
The union clearly expects to extract concessions by striking so close to the elections. The unions' campaign contributions give them a loud voice, while the children have no voice at all.
The teachers are getting no public sympathy; there's almost no partisan divide on this issue. Many of the parents are in politics and the media, at both the local and national level, and they know what's going on. They know who encourages reform and who obstructs it. When their children are involved, they show little forbearance with union politics.
"It's probably about the dumbest thing the union could do from a national standpoint," Chester Finn, head of the Fordham Institute and a conservative critic of how children in modern America are taught, tells The New York Times. "It will remind everybody that teachers unions are about teachers, not kids." Fancy that.