Caught read-handed

Bush says, "Teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test"; Chavez draws liberal lurkers. Plus: Wednesday briefing.

Published February 21, 2001 12:44PM (EST)

President Bush spoke on Wednesday to teachers and students of Townsend Elementary School in Townsend, Tenn. Bush then laid out aspects of his education plan. I "believe in local control of schools," he said. "I believe the best way to chart the path to excellence for every child in America is to insist that authority and responsibility be aligned at the local level."

Therefore, the president said, he is going to work with the House and Senate "to provide flexibility for the federal funds so that the governors, superintendents, principals can design programs that meet your specific needs. As the old adage, one size does not fit all in public education -- it is very true. It is very true. We had the same goal in Tennessee and Texas, and that is every child learn."

Bush said that he anticipated naysayers would disparage his education plan's insistence that schools meet national standards. "There are some who will say, 'Well, we can't have the test because all they'll do is teach the test,'" Bush said. "Well, I went to a writing class here in this school, and they were teaching the children to write, and therefore they were able to pass the test.

"You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test," Bush said.
-- Jake Tapper [12:15 p.m. PST, Feb. 21, 2001]

Jackals and intruders at Chavez speech

Linda Chavez, who dropped out of the running for secretary of labor under a Nannygate cloud, returned to the Washington podium circuit with a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, on Wednesday afternoon.

Kicking off her remarks, Chavez joked that when Bush first nominated her, one columnist said she would be the labor unions' worst nightmare. "I may not be secretary of labor, but nightmares don't always end when you wake up," she said, vowing to become an active watchdog of organized labor.

As for her own political nightmare -- her three-day journey from being labor secretary-designate to tearful would-have-been after allegations surfaced that she housed an illegal alien in the early '90s and tried to cover it up -- Chavez insisted, as she has from the beginning, that she was simply the victim of character assassination. "They did a lot to distort my record," she said, blaming liberals in the media and her political opponents in the labor movement.

Many in the audience agreed. In a brief reception following the speech, a man who identified himself only as "Citizen Lewis" was a lot more forceful when he listed the culprits in Chavez's political demise. "She was up against the liberal jackals in Washington and the media," he said. "They were all yowling for blood."

Two self-described Chavez critics who attended the speech kept their yowling to a minimum, sitting silently at the back of the auditorium during her remarks, and standing close to the door during the reception. "I feel out of place," said one intern of a prominent congressional liberal. He said that he attended the speech to hear the conservative take on labor issues, even though he thought it was all wrong. He wouldn't say whom he worked for, but was certain that his employer wouldn't be popular with the Chavez fans at Heritage. "This is definitely their turf," he said.

Another intern from the same Hill office was similarly closemouthed about his boss. "I do feel like a traitor, almost," he said, munching on one of the complimentary sandwiches that Heritage provided for guests. "Maybe 'traitor' is the wrong word," he backtracked. "Maybe it's more like 'intruder.'"
-- Alicia Montgomery [12:15 p.m. PST, Feb. 21, 2001]

Talk is cheap, but politics can be expensive. As President Bush prepares to visit a Tennessee school to press for his education plan, his advisors in Washington are promising to reveal the price tag on the proposal next week.

Bush's Democratic critics in Congress have repeatedly expressed doubts that the president can make serious improvements in education if he continues to insist on a $1.6 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

So far, Bush has not had to address these concerns directly because he hasn't offered an estimate about how much his education plan would cost, outside of the $5 billion he wants to spend on programs promoting literacy over the next five years. Bush renewed his interest in that initiative during school visits in Ohio and Missouri on Tuesday.

Former President Bill Clinton is learning a lesson about what the pardon of Marc Rich will cost him politically. Joining several Democrats who have blasted the pardon choice, former President Jimmy Carter called Clinton's decision "disgraceful."
-- Alicia Montgomery [6 a.m. PST, Feb. 21, 2001]

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------