The NCLB Exception

Responding to my contention that there turned out to be no there there to Bush's "compassionate conservatism," Ross adduces a few examples:

Bush did have a pseudo-Christian Democratic policy agenda: It consisted of the faith-based initiatives, No Child Left Behind, the prescription drugs bill, and immigration reform. The first was small potatoes, but the rest weren't small at all.

My rejoinder to this, as Ross anticipates, is that the prescription drug bill and the immigration reform proposal are really both just business conservatism dressed up as "compassion." Ross says that's "what you'd expect from an administration where both Gerson and Dick Cheney had the President's ear," but it's also what I'd expect from an administration that just likes lying.

It really does all come down to NCLB, a policy that obviously has some low-partisan rationales in terms of dividing the Democratic coalition, but that also represents some meaningful dissent from the right's typical voucher-mania in a reality-based way. In particular, NCLB is founded on recognition that absent some really unimaginable injection of new money the majority of kids — especially disadvantaged ones — are going to be in public schools, and also on the reality that plenty of "good" schools in the suburbs still manage to do a bad job of educating poor children. The proposition that NCLB actually helps achieve its goals on those measure is, needless to say, controversial in left-of-center circles (my view on this is more Robert Gordon than Richard Rothstein) but the whole idea of a policy debate over how to make public schools work better is a refreshing alternative to the usual contemporary dynamic where you have Republicans trying to destroy some public service.