The current teacher’s union’s strike in Chicago is reaching its second week without much movement toward an end. Right now, most parents support the teachers but many dread the consequences of a strike going on for much longer. The strike reflects the ongoing conflict between teacher’s unions and local governments as efforts to cut costs and reign in funds are countered by efforts to ensure quality pay for the important work of teaching, colored by the struggle our nation is facing in bringing our school quality up to a first-world level across the nation.
To many, it will most importantly serve as a gift from the universe to the Mitt Romney campaign. The Republican Party of today has not hesitated from making clear its policy that teacher’s unions are opponents in achieving a new direction in teaching. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin went into recall over his controversial policies limiting collective bargaining for teachers, and at the RNC New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie said that “[democrats] believe in teacher’s unions, we believe in teachers” during his keynote address, which doubled as a 2016 or 2020 nomination acceptance speech. So, in addition to matching existing party ideology, denouncing the teacher’s union strike in Chicago couldn’t drive away anyone who hasn’t been driven away already by other and harsher actions against teacher’s unions.
The story plays perfectly into the current view of the unions that the Republicans have constructed which is: the unions are directly cutting off education for students who are already obtaining a sub-par education, so that teachers can gain a raise. National pressure could force the union to come to a resolution quickly, which the Republicans would be able to show as a victory. On the other hand, a clear win for the teacher’s union could be easily declared a weakness of the government of democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and possibly to rail against the “Chicago politics” that has become a buzzword in connecting Obama to a history of corruption in the city. The conversation would naturally bring up the state of Chicago schools even before the strike, which would provide for Republicans to say that new methods for addressing our nation’s schools are needed.
Further on regarding the mayor, Republicans also gain the chance to appear bipartisan by openly standing alongside Emanuel in calling for the teachers to return to work, as Emanuel is not only a democrat but is well-known to be one of the politically fiercest democrats there is, particularly while serving as Chief of Staff for the Obama White House. Democrats would be unable to effectively support the Union in a national debate without to some extent going against Emanuel and violating important ideals of party loyalty, President Obama would be unable to respond if the nation were turned against the strike; in responding he would be forced to choose against teacher’s unions – a massive supporter he cannot win without – and the independent vote – which he also cannot win without.
So, why aren’t Republicans commenting on the strike? The strike is already receiving enough national attention that sustained commentary from Romney or Ryan would be enough to shift the national conversation for some time, into an arena where the republicans have the clear advantage – as opposed to foreign policy where Romney seems to walk into flub after flub, or the economy where no party has a clear advantage in the eyes of the voters. Yes, both Romney and Ryan have given short statements, but by all logic the strike should be in every stump speech the two give until it is resolved. I can think of only three reasons why the strike is not dominating the Republican message right now.
The first is the desire to not interfere with teacher’s unions during an election year. While this is a valid goal – teacher’s unions represent both financial assistance and votes – the party has come out so strongly against the unions that no success could be made on the front this election cycle, and it would take major shifts in policy to have support in 2016 or 2020. Any voter who believes strongly in the teacher’s unions will vote for the Democrats with or without Republican commentary on the rally.
The second is a desire to focus on the economy. This is also a valid goal that has already failed. While Romney’s strongest attribute is the economy due to both his private sector experience and Obama’s incumbency during a terrible economy, the conversation has shifted significantly toward social issues and foreign policy since the Todd Akin comments and the Benghazi embassy attack. Shifting the conversation back to the economy would require major news such as an economic shift or major policy announcement, and so far not even an awful August jobs report has served as news enough, and so far Romney has run a campaign heavier on ideology than policy. If a conversation on the economy is not feasible, a conversation about the Chicago strike is necessary
The third is a desire to avoid allying with Rahm Emanuel. While Paul Ryan announced he stood with the Mayor against the strike a week ago, very little has been done to praise the mayor’s side – of course that is because the mayor is a democrat. While bipartisanship looks good, it’s important to avoid giving Emanuel positive PR should the mayor later campaign for a higher seat in state or federal government. I would consider this concern minor at best; in the end should Emanuel seek office anywhere but in his current position his opposition to the strike will hurt him. Looking bipartisan only helps when you’re accomplishing your party’s goals while doing it, and Emanuel went against a longstanding relationship between the democratic party and teacher’s unions. His P.R. will be greater effected by the issue than the Republican reaction to it.
I would expect that, should things get worse for the Romney campaign, a massively increased focus on the strike will be one of their first tools for recovery. However, it’s odd they’re even saving it for that point.