The Spectacle Blog

Obama’s Limited “Limited Government”

By on 6.4.10 | 11:10AM

David Brooks's column this morning is a tribute to the limited-government philosophy behind the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program

"Our government shouldn't try to guarantee results," this politician said, "but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who's willing to work hard."

That sentence struck me as a pretty good foundation for a political philosophy. It was delivered by President Obama at the University of Michigan commencement last month.

Obama administration policies haven't always hewed to this limited but energetic approach. But there is one area where they sure have: education.

Almost anyone could endorse the vague political philosophy Obama expresses here. And Race to the Top certainly has its merits, especially in the way that it breaks the usual interest group dynamics that block charter school and voucher reforms, which, as Brooks explains, is a credit to Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Then again, it also has its drawbacks, which RiShawn Biddle discussed in our May issue. 

But how can you argue that Obama's education policy reflects a political philosophy that government should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who's willing to work hard? Is Brooks not aware that Obama and the Democratic Party let the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program expire in order to appease the teachers' unions? And that this program, as its name suggests, was created to give kids from tough backgrounds real opportunities, while at the same time saving some money for the taxpayers?

Obama's political philosophy, premised on ensuring opportunity for all, is pretty useless if it doesn't extend to the people who really do lack opportunities. Yet Obama gets paeans for his stump speeches, while disadvantaged kids in D.C. get robbed of their scholarships for no reason.  

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