Secretary Paige Issues Apology for Comment about NEA

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige today [Feb. 23] issued the following apology for his remarks about the NEA.

“It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the obstructionist scare tactics the NEA’s Washington lobbyists have employed against No Child Left Behind’s historic education reforms. I also said, as I have repeatedly, that our nation’s teachers, who have dedicated their lives to service in the classroom, are the real soldiers of democracy, whereas the NEA’s high-priced Washington lobbyists have made no secret that they will fight against bringing real, rock-solid improvements in the way we educate all our children regardless of skin color, accent or where they live. But, as one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better.”

Secretary Paige Issues Apology for Comment about NEA (US Department of Education)

A few days ago, the Drudge Report’s coverage of this story (about a Bush official calling the leaders of a large teachers’ union “terrorists”) featured an item noting that potential Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry once called Texas Republicans “legislative terrorists.” It’s not hard to find examples of politicians going overboard with their metaphors, but Kerry’s attack on fellow politicians was just business as usual; for the Bush appointee to pick on underpaid and overworked teachers seems downright mean. Kerry would be wise to stay out of this fray, because it’s already another black eye for Bush.

I’m actually blogging this mostly because of the rhetoric involved.

While Paige finally admits he “should have chosen [his] words better,” he only does so after bringing our attention to the “the obstructionist scare tactics” the NEA’s leaders have brought against the “historic reforms” proposed by the Bush administration. Paige also calls attention to his own racial and cultural background — which complicates issues for those who prefer their enemies in the White House to be uniformly white, male, privileged, and conservative. Paige’s statement tries to direct the attack at the NEA leadership, not the millions of (voting) members who compose the NEA — but I’m sure the NEA’s leaders aren’t going to throw up their arms and say, “The jig is up — Paige has discovered that we don’t really have the interests of students or rank-and-file NEA members in mind when we visit Washington.” The road leads ever on.

Hint to Paige and anybody else who has ever had to do damage control: if you want to look sincere while apologizing, a quivering lip and wavering voice is nice, but when you’re through with the emoting, don’t spend even more time defending yourself and re-phrasing the very attack for which you are supposedly apologizing. I’m reminded of Bill Clinton’s 1998 speech in which he admitted that he “misled people, including even my wife,” which I thought was an excellent speech until he brought up the investigations into his financial affairs. (Clinton should have taken the high road, and let his supporters continue attacking Ken Starr. But that’s a different story.)

I just noticed Mike Arnzen has blogged a bit on the incident over at Pedablogue.