Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Truth About Obama and Teachers

There was a lengthy and great comment following this post at Diane Ravitch's blog that explains the whole sordid story. It's worth posting here, I think, for posterity's sake:

Diane, I’m sorry this is so long, but I just needed to get some of the local (Chicago) history about Barack Obama into part of the record, so thanks for asking whether the teacher unions have any friends left in the administration.


That’s the short answer.

But as a historian, Diane, I hope you’ll appreciate the details of how the Chicago Teachers Union put Barack Obama in the United States Senate and thereby gave him the launching pad to the rest of his career. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll share.

Barack Obama became the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Senate seat because the Chicago Teachers Union under the leadership at that time of Deborah Lynch stood firm against a local favorite (Tom Hynes) and pushed for Barack Obama, then an almost unknown State Senator who had just gerrymandered his South Side district so it would run south to north (to include the Gold Coast) rather than east to west (stretching through the Black Community). Little did we realize that Barack Obama was telegraphing his subsequent opportunism with that move. Instead of the thousands of poor Black people in place like Englewood, he was suddenly Illinois Senator representing a few Black people (mostly in Hyde Park) and then the wealthiest people in Chicago (including his Sugar Mommy, billionaire Penny Pritzker).

But without out support, Barack Obama would never have been a United States Senator to give that immortal speech to the Democratic Convention. And he was in the Senate because the leaders and most of the members of the Chicago Teachers Union put him there by giving him the nomination in a tough fight against the Ward Committeemen, who wanted Hynes. No Pritzker could have done that for the guy who used to walk around the union offices (where I worked as “Director of Security and Safety” during those years) telling us “Call me Barack” and sharing one of the weakest handshakes in history. (That’s another story for another time, but the first time we shook hands I was really surprised because most politicians don’t have such weak hands; even if they have never worked with their hands — and Obama has never been a worker — they get stronger hands by shaking hands with thousands of us…).

It was not easy supporting Obama in those days.

I remember sitting in front of a Christmas Tree at a major union holiday party and being cornered by a drunken friend, a teacher who had also been long active in ward politics in the 43rd Ward (I live in the 45th; Chicagoans know their geo-locations primarily by ward, parish, and “side”… tertiarily by “community”) screaming at me so that he attracted attention.

Basically, he was insisting that we were giving away a Senate seat by forcing Barack Obama on Illinois. Nobody, my friend said (and we remained friends) outside of Chicago will vote for a guy whose name is “Osama” and who is Black.

My answer to that had been practiced by then.

“I’ve heard this guy speak. He will go all the way down to Cairo and Carbondale [Illinois towns south of the Mason Dixon line] and charm those ladies to the point where they will bake him pies, then go home and dust off the KKK robes their fathers wore back in the day…”

And that’s precisely what happened.

Barack Obama practiced that “guy with a strange name and funny-looking ears…” speech on teachers and other friendly audiences for months. It worked. So did the “I’m not against all wars, just bad wars and the wrong wars…” speech he used to gut the candidacy of Hillary Clinton by early 2008. My wife and mother-in-law heard that speech in Chicago’s Federal Plaza and we helped it go viral before things could “go viral” in the sense we use it today. By that summer, when Yearly Kos was in Chicago, Obama was pulling ahead of the pack, despite the slick operation Hillary had.

By the summer of 2008, all of the dishonesty of Barack Obama and his “team” was already in place. For me, there are two memorable points.

In july 2008, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) met in Chicago at Navy Pier. We were out of power then. Debbie Lynch’s PACT caucus had been defeated by Marilyn Stewart’s “New United Progressive Caucus” in 2004 and re-elected in 2007. Lynch by 2008 was finished. I was out of work, editing Substance, and part of the group that was building CORE (which was to win union power in the CTU two years later).

I covered the AFT convention in July 2008 for Substance. Hillary Clinton announced that she would speak to the convention, but Barack Obama told the convention planners that he had a “conflict…” Sorry, but he just couldn’t be with us, so he would Skype in (which he did). His claim was that he wouldn’t be in town, blah blah blah.

He was lying. The night before he was supposed to speak by Skype, I was at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and noticed some young people silently holding small signs that said OBAMA and pointing when asked. I followed the trail into a lower area and was blocked by a bunch of young people manning tables. “Is Barack Obama here?” I asked and was told “Yes” but that it was “by invitation only.”

I tried to get into the room where he was, but was threatened with arrest because it was a “private” thing. Not having backup, I didn’t try to barge in as press. But I wanted to see him myself so I could report that he had been at the convention hotel at a time when he had told the AFT leadership “Sorry…”

The trick was to follow the money. The people going in to the Obama event were very VERY well dressed. So… I waited at the exit from the hotel parking lot surrounded by some of Chicago’s wealthiest people, all of whom had to wait for their cars. Secret service were blocking everyone and the hotel staff were not getting cars for anyone. Then the Obama convoy pulled out (I counted three of those SUVs…) and the middle car stopped and the candidate rolled down the window, thanks the people who were waiting, and sped away. So I had seen Obama at the hotel the night before he would be “too busy” to speak directly to the union’s 3,000 delegates.

The next morning, I went to the press room and asked what the AFT leadership had said when they learned that Obama had lied to them about not being in town. At first, I got one of those “What are you talking about?” thingies. Finally, a guy I knew pulled me aside and said that he had been with Ed McElvoy (then AFT president) when Ed talked with Obama on the telephone about the snub. The call, according to my source, ended abruptly, McElvoy expressing his anger with the Obama deception in vivid language.

Second came in The New York Times later that summer.

The Times ran a page one story about how the Obama thing was built. It include a lot of local Chicago stuff (leaving out the gerrymandering of the Obama State Senate district out of Black Chicago, among other things) — but left out the work the Chicago Teachers Union had done to get Obama into the United States Senate.

Instead, to read the official version from All The News That’s Fit to Print, it was a bunch of old “movement” people from the defunct “New left” that had helped strategize the Obama campaign locally. The Chicago Teachers Union was not even mentioned!

One of those who had fought the hardest during the time we were pushing to get the nomination for our friend the state senator had been Howard Heath, who was Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union in the early 2000s and also the lead union lobbyist in Springfield, the state capitol. Howard knew “Barack” very well in those days, when our future president played lots of basketball and select poker games as part of his networking.

It was Howard who caught the most heat during the months we were fighting to get the nomination for “Barack.”

After the Arne Duncan appointment in December 2008, we knew what was going to unfold. I asked Howard later whether he had heard from Barack and Michelle, both buddies once upon a time, since they became international rock stars. Of course not.

On my refrigerator, we have a photograph I took at a LEAD (Legislators Educators Appreciation Dinner) of Barack Obama and my wife Sharon and young son Sam back then. We leave it up and now and then people will be looking over all the Little League and friends and school and family pictures and exclaim…

Is that Sharon and Sam with the President?!

Yes. I don’t have a photograph of myself with him because I was always taking the photographs, not posing in them.

The guy is a hypocrite and worse in more ways than most of us know now.

Like many people who were used by Barack Obama in his ruthless climb to the “top,” the American Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union can continue to remember the facts. History has a way of catching up with various lies and liars.

The truth is never pretty.

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