Monday, November 15, 2004

The upside and the downside to Margaret Spellings

According to Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post's Daily Briefing, the four resignation letters announced yesterday were all submitted at different times. He suggests that this indicates the White House has been "packaging" the resignations. And why would they do that?

They packaged other controversial Secretaries (Paige and Abraham specifically) with Powell so that the coverage would be cursory. The White House advisers are a smart group. I don't like their politics but I respect their political instincts and abilities. These people are good at what they do and yesterday's "packaging" only reinforces that.

Had Paige's resignation been announced on a day with no other resignations, everyone would have been talking about the very unpopular hallmark of his tenure: No Child Left Behind.

Of course, Paige's resignation isn't all that interesting anyway, when you consider that his likely successor -- Margaret Spellings -- isn't going to change a much. Check out this press conference on board Air Force One during the No Child Left Behind tour in 2002. Paige and Spellings were both there. During the questioning, Paige's answers were brief and vague (he spoke less than 200 words) while Spellings' answers were detailed, expansive, and articulate (and lengthy: over 600 words).

The point: she knew more than he did anyway. She was an architect of NCLB; he was a salesman. She was behind the scenes, setting policy; now she'll be out front, articulating that policy, and probably far more ably than the outgoing Secretary, I might add. (I doubt she'll call the NEA a terrorist organization, for example.)

By way of conclusion, every single newspaper in the world reports that Spellings will be the new Education Secretary; I'd be a fool to go against the conventional wisdom especially since I've been saying for weeks that she is the logical choice anyway. I think she'll be named before the week is out.

But there's one problem with Spellings for the Administration: she might not be conservative enough. It'll be interesting to see how the Christian Right in particular reacts to her appointment. She's been against vouchers and is generally described as a moderate. Right-wingers really want an Education Secretary that will push for vouchers so that churches can get a piece of the education pie. Spellings, unless she's changed a lot recently -- that is, unless she's been born again -- won't fight for that kind of change.

From today's New York Times:

Conservatives, meanwhile, see an opportunity to reopen the drive for expanding school choice in a variety of ways, including through taxpayer-financed vouchers for children from failing public schools to attend private schools. Last week, the White House began canvassing some education groups and Republican supporters for names of possible successors to Dr. Paige. The person most frequently mentioned was Margaret Spellings, who is Mr. Bush's chief domestic policy adviser. But some conservatives have raised questions about Ms. Spellings's willingness to advance vouchers and other initiatives dear to their hearts.

If Bush can find a way to please conservatives in a different appointment (will we hear from Mr. Rehnquist this week?), than Spellings can be named quietly and without conflict. If not, you could hear quite an outcry.

Look for the Administration to name Spellings shortly after some other major announcement so that it will be brushed aside, much as Paige's resignation was yesterday.


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