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Objects of the class “Lawrence Summers”: Arne Duncan edition

We have a new “Objects of the class,” and it’s a good one!

Here’s what happened. I came across a thoughtful discussion by Mark Palko of how it was that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ticked off so many people with his recent remarks about “white suburban moms”:

To understand why Duncan hit such a nerve, you need to consider the long and complicated role that racial politics have played in this debate.

The public face of the education reform movement has always been pictures of eager young African-American and Hispanic children. Not only has the movement been sold as a way of helping these children but people who object to parts of the reform agenda have often been accused, implicitly or explicitly, of not wanting to help children of color. . . . For starters, with certain notable exceptions, the leaders of the reform movement tend to be white or Asian . . . By comparison, the tenured and/or unionized teachers who have paid the highest price in terms of policy changes and school closures have been disproportionately African-American. Under these circumstances, you can imagine the reaction when education reformers make statements like “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.” . . .

Did Duncan really say that??? Apparently he did. I followed Palko’s link to a full-on rant from Gary Rubinstein, who had a few other horrible Duncanisms to go with the Katrina remark. My favorite, as a statistician, was this one:

I see extraordinary schools where 95 percent of children live below the poverty line, where 95 percent are graduating, and 90 percent of those who graduate are going on to college.

Rubinstein writes:

This is from the September 2009 NEA Today magazine, in which Duncan attempts to answer questions from teachers. Since then, the claims of the 90-90-90 schools (or 95-95-90 schools, in this case) have been challenged so much that we rarely hear about them anymore.

A prominent figure who refers to Hurricane Katrina as a good thing is, of course, widely disliked on the left.

It should also be no surprise that Duncan, who, after all, is an appointee of Barack Obama, is disliked on the right as well. If you don’t believe me, just google *arne duncan communist*.

It’s Larry time!

And that’s where Mr. Summers comes in. As regular blog readers know, the one thing Starbucks and Lawrence Summers have in common, beyond containing large doses of caffeine, is that they are widely disliked on the left and the right.

And, when I talk about disliked, I’m not just saying that Larry is a dislikable, Barry Bonds kind of guy. Rather, it really seems like people on the left dislike Summers for being so conservative, and people on the right dislike him for being so liberal.

Objects of the class “Lawrence Summers”

OK, so here’s my official definition. An object is in the class “Lawrence Summers” if it is despised on the left for holding silly right-wing attitudes and simultaneously despised on the right for holding silly left-wing attitudes. (It’s important for the dislike to be simultaneous. It’s not enough to be a left-winger who is despised by the right and then, a few years later, take a hard right turn and get hated by the other side. You have to be hated by both sides, for opposite reasons, at the same time.)

Arne Duncan, like Starbucks, is in the class “Lawrence Summers.”


  1. zbicyclist says:

    typo: “despised on the left for holding silly right-wing attitudes and simultaneously despised on the left for holding silly left-wing attitudes” [feel free to delete this comment]

  2. Phil says:

    The thing I can’t figure out is why Barack Obama isn’t a member of the class. He is in favor of many right-wing things I despise (keeping Guantanamo open, warrantless wiretapping and worse, an assassination program that kills lots of innocents too, letting financial criminals off without punishment, weakening of environmental protections in just about all areas) and yet even I don’t despise him, and there are lots of people more left-wing than me.

    I guess my point with this comment is that there is not necessarily a logical inconsistency in being hated by the right on the basis of being too left-wing and also by the left for being too right-wing: there are many parameters (certainly for a president, but even for a financial guy) and plenty of scope to be way off to the left on some and off to the right on others.

  3. Rahul says:

    Quite often, if both the left and right hate someone, it’s a sign that he’s a really good guy.

    • Andrew says:

      That’s what Arne Duncan would want to believe! In fairness, I don’t know anything about him. He might be a really good guy who just is not so numerate (hence is comment about the 90/90/90 schools), sometimes speaks rudely off the cuff (hence the Katrina and “white suburban moms” thing), and is too quick to trust educational bureaucrats (hence his endorsement of those new standards).

    • Z says:

      I agree with Andrew that that’s what those people like to think. Centrists seem to think that no matter what the two parties believe the wise thing is to locate yourself in the middle to ensure that you’re not partisan. I think if someone considers their values and each issue on its own merits without considering party positions, they’re very likely to wind up mostly agreeing with one party. I’m pretty suspicious of centrists.

      • zbicyclist says:

        I wish there was a way to test Z’s proposition. I personally suspect it’s the opposite — I think if there was a way to evaluate each issue on its own merits, positions would be pretty split. But Z might be right.

        I note that parties tend to switch on issues over time. In the 1960s it was Republicans pushing abortion rights, with Democrats more likely to be opposed. It was the southern Republicans who tended to be more liberal on civil rights issues, and southern Democrats who were more likely to be conservative/segregationist. The general structure of the ACA seems to have originally been a Republican idea. The first big trust-buster president was a Republican (TR). Support for some form of state support for private/parochial schools (buses, textbooks, lunch) used to be a Democratic idea (in part because Catholics tended to be Democrats) but now vouchers, charter schools, etc. are more likely to be opposed by Democrats (in part because of the influence of teachers unions).

        I think it’s possible to be a radical centrists, with strong opinions that are on both sides of the spectrum.

        • Nick Cox says:

          Thinking that your education and your health are society’s concern and your sexuality and your family status a totally personal concern is a standard left-liberal position (I use the terms in British senses; some translation may be required).

    • Chris G says:

      A few examples of that would be?

  4. Mark Palko says:

    I don’t think googling *arne duncan communist* is a fair way of checking out the arguments on the right. For a more sensible take (and just to show how far down the rabbit hole we’ve gone), I’d recommend Michelle Malkin:

    “There’s much more to the fight than simple left-right divisions. The Common Core peddlers include meddling, Fed Ed Republicans from Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee to progressive billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates to Newscorp. media giant Rupert Murdoch and dozens of educational corporate special interests that stand to gain billions from the Common Core testing/textbook/data-mining boondoggle.

    “The Stop Common Core movement includes social conservatives, libertarians, teachers’ union members, charter school advocates, Catholic school principals, urban and suburban parents, New York City Democrats, Tea Party Republicans, homeschoolers, and concerned activists from all parts of the political spectrum concerned about the feds’ encroachment on family and student privacy.”

    • ezra abrams says:

      (amazed at self) agree ing with Ms Malkin: here in the state of MA, the Gates billionaires and their hirelings, accountable to no one, un elected, a private, not open organization, manged to cause major changes in school policy.
      maybe the changes are good; maybe bad; but I hate and loathe the idea of these rich people bullying the rest of the country with their money

  5. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Mitt Romney?

  6. Steve Sailer says:

    Michael Bloomberg
    Bill Gates
    Mark Zuckerberg

    If you think that immigration policy is important, like I do, then:

    George W. Bush
    Karl Rove
    John McCain
    Rupert Murdoch
    Marco Rubio

  7. Jbulbulia says:

    During his time, George Orwell, though now Orwell is often praised both by the left and the right.

  8. K? O'Rourke says:

    Not sure if this is related, but the term Red Tory (communist conservative) came to mind.

  9. Nick Brown says:

    1. The BBC, which is permanently regarded by most people on the right of UK politics as a hotbed of trendy-left thinking, and by most people on the left as pro-Establishment and overly supportive of the Conservative party.

    2. In a different way: the European Union, and more specifically the European Commission. In the UK, you don’t have to be especially right-wing and anti-EU to believe that it is a rather corporatist, bureaucratic, anti-free-enterprise institution, constantly hampering business efficiency with ever more bizarre directives (many of which are actually inventions of the newspapers). On the other hand, the standard French view of the EU/EC – and again, not just from people on the obvious side of the political spectrum – is that it is full of neo-liberals trying to tear down European (and more specifically, French) citizens’ social rights and make life easy for freewheeling market capitalists. I think it would be funny to put the main political opponents to the EU in both countries in a room and watch them realise that between them, they were accusing it of being “A” and “not A” at the same time.

  10. JSE says:

    The financial industry. Hated on the left for privatizing profit / socializing risk and generally scamming money out of the tax base, hated on the right for receiving a federal bailout and often supporting Democratic candidates.

  11. ezra abrams says:

    Re summers
    James Watson (of DNA fame) a longtime Harvard Prof, posits that like a lot of math smart people, Summers has some degree of Aspergers: inability to read emotions.
    Sure, it is possible that women are genetically inferior to men on math; lets try (a la Golda Meir) instituting a 9pm curfew for all men, so woman can walk the streets without fear at night, and revisit the issue in ten years..

    My favorite comic: two panels, each shows two boys sitting at their desks in school, maybe 4th graders
    one boy is black, one white
    they are taking a test
    panel 1
    white boy: hey (to black) what are “grits”?
    Panel 2
    thought balloon over head of black boy with words “what do you know, whitey must be just naturally stupid !”

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