Jonathan Alter: Tea Party and Teachers’ Union Make Strange Brew

October 21st, 2011

Bloomberg Business Week
By Jonathan Alter
Oct. 21, 2011

The age-old tension between federal authority and states’ rights is back in a big way in this year’s presidential campaign, with Republican candidates taking the let-the-states-handle-it position on everything from environmental regulation to health-care reform.

Now President Barack Obama’s education policy, a rare bipartisan winner, may also be headed back to the states, which were collectively responsible in recent years for dumbing down standards, ignoring obvious failure and otherwise jeopardizing the whole future of the country.

With the support of Republicans, Obama over the past three years has moved aggressively to set high education standards from Washington and let states and localities figure out how to meet them. But now the Tea Party is pushing Republicans to abolish the Department of Education and resist any federal “intrusions” into education.

Letting the “laboratories of democracy” take the lead makes sense in certain areas, like when states use tax breaks to compete for foreign investment. But it’s more often a green light for a race to the bottom. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s radical idea of abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency (founded under President Richard Nixon) in favor of state agencies would mean states competing to allow the most pollution.

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