Thomas Sowell

WHAT AMAZES some media pundits is that Gov. George W. Bush has seized issues that have long belonged to the Democrats, such as education and Social Security.

What should be more amazing is that education was ever the Democrats' issue in the first place. The Democrats' formula for improving education -- pouring ever more billions of tax dollars down a bottomless pit -- has failed consistently for more than two decades. During all that time, American students have never been able to score as high on tests as they did back in 1963.

Only the ineptness of previous Republicans has let education be an issue that helps Democrats. The Democrats have not only backed a failing policy, they are boxed in politically because they are so dependent on the financial support of the teachers' unions in general and the National Education Association in particular.

At one Democratic convention, there were more delegates who belonged to the National Education Association than there were delegates from California. In addition to the millions of dollars contributed to the Democrats by the NEA, its affiliates across the country can field an army of free precinct workers to help the Democrats on election night.

Democrats have no room to maneuver on education because they can't do anything that offends the NEA. They can't be for allowing parents to have choice. They can't be for getting rid of incompetent teachers. They can't even be for back-to-basics education, instead of the current fads.

They can go in for more gimmicks, like more teachers' aides, more computers, or other ploys that all boil down to throwing more money at the schools. That doesn't produce educational success, even if it produces political success by getting the voters to believe that the Democrats are "doing something" because they "care."

This game has worked politically for the Democrats because the Republicans have been so inarticulate. So long as the Republicans stood around tongue-tied, who was going to tell the public that throwing more money at the schools had never produced anything but more expensive failure?

Democrats have been great at showing pictures of schools in need of repairs and saying that they are going to provide the money to fix them. What they have not shown are pictures of the armies of education bureaucrats, some earning six-figure salaries, including janitors in some cities.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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