Before an adoring crowd of activists at a breakfast Feb. 21 in the South Bronx, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., took on one of her favorite targets — proposals for school vouchers intended to broaden the range of educational choices available to parents.
Unsurprisingly, for a U.S. senator who won her seat in 2000 with the help of the New York City teachers union, she’s against ’em.
According to a report in the Long Island paper Newsday and a Fox News transcript, Clinton drew a lurid picture of what giving parents alternatives to union-dominated government schools might entail:
“Suppose that you were meeting today to decide who got the vouchers,” she said. “First parent comes and says, ‘I want to send my daughter to St. Peter’s Roman Catholic School’ and you say ‘Great, wonderful school, here’s your voucher.’ Next parent who comes says, ‘I want to send, you know, my child to the Jewish Day School.’ Great, here’s your voucher! Next parent who comes says, ‘I want to send my child to the private school that I’ve already dreamed of sending my child to.’ Fine. Here’s your voucher.
“ . . . Suppose the next parent comes and says ‘I want to send my child to the School of the Jihad.’ Wait a minute! We’re not going to send a child with taxpayers’ dollars to the School of Jihad. ‘Well, you gave it to the Catholics, gave it to the Jews, gave it to the private secular people. You’re gonna tell me I can’t? I’m a taxpayer. Under the Constitution.’
“Now, tell me how we’re going to make those choices.”
This is the old “straw man” technique of debating — to raise a phantasm about a position that is easier to criticize than its actual reality and diverts the thread of the argument onto safer ground. As the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson points out, under federal law no one could open a school advocating anti-government violence.
But a greater problem with Sen. Clinton’s anti-school choice, pro-public education stand is the action she took when the issue touched her own family. As the Clintons moved to Washington, D.C. in 1992, they had to face the reality of the public school system in that city and the question of whether to send their 13-year-old daughter Chelsea there. Despite entreaties by public school officials, the Clintons immediately placed their child in Sidwell Friends School, an exclusive private school with a reputation for academic excellence.
That is just the kind of option most parents wish they had, what school-choice advocates are trying to make available to them, and what voucher foes such as Sen. Clinton are trying to foreclose.