Obama Hangover

I don’t know if Sen. Barack Obama is brilliant or dense, but out of the eight presidential candidates who addressed the NEA Representative Assembly, he’s the one who received the breakthrough press coverage — all because of some vague statement about negotiating alternative pay systems with NEA.

I also honestly don’t know why this moment was singled out. Because the delegates didn’t boo or hiss? Of course they didn’t. They were being nice. But that’s not to say they didn’t react. At NEA conventions, you have to listen for the silence.

When a crowd cheers every platitude you spout, then stops cheering after one specific platitude, that’s a sign of rejection. It happened to Obama, and you don’t have to take my word for it.

But it also happened to Sen. Hillary Clinton, after she praised charter schools. And it happened to Gov. Bill Richardson, who was on a roll throughout his remarks to the delegates and hit a brick wall when he mentioned longer school days and longer school years. The grumbling in the back of the hall was clearly audible.

If you talk about education for more than five minutes, you are bound to hit upon a proposal the teachers’ unions won’t like. A savvy candidate would have entered the hall with “First I Look at the Purse” (the J. Geils Band version) blaring over the loudspeakers, pushing a wheelbarrow full of cash. He or she then would have given the old Richard Nixon two-armed wave and walked off the stage without uttering a word. The delegates would have gone nuts.